Ethics of bird watching

A recent series of posts on the birding forum Birding-Aus discussed the ethics of birding. This thread had a particular emphasis on the practice of some birders of playing recordings of the calls of hard to see birds. This method is used in an attempt to attract the bird to come closer. The theory is that the bird will think this is an interloper on his territory or that it will come to investigate out of curiosity.

Some birders are strongly in favour of this practice and use it often, others use the method sparingly while others are strongly opposed to it. I think that it is cheating, and prefer to use my birding skills to track down the elusive bird. The only concession I make is that I will occasionally use a method called pishing, in which one makes hissing or kissing noises with your mouth. The way I do it is to suck air through my teeth against a tightened lip – it’s actually very easy to do and quite hard to describe in words.

As a result of this discussion, several people posted their bird club’s code of ethics. I thought it was so good I have included it below.

  • The welfare of birds must come first.
  • Habitat must be protected.
  • Nests, eggs and the immediate vicinity must not be disturbed.
  • Keep disturbance of birds and their habitat to a minimum.
  • Abide by the bird protection laws at all times.
  • Keep your pets at home.
  • When you find a rare bird, think carefully about whom you should tell.
  • Make your records available to the local bird recorder.
  • Respect the rights of land owners.
  • Respect the rights of other people in the countryside.
  • Be an ambassador for birdwatchers generally. We do not want to be unwelcome in the future

This is a simple list of easy to follow instructions with the welfare of the birds in mind.

Thanks to Alan for posting this on Birding-Aus and the Hunter Bird Observers Club. It’s their code and similar codes have been adopted by other clubs in NSW.

Todays’ photo is of a Yellow Rumped Thornbill, a species that responds well to pishing.

Yellow Rumped Thornbill

Yellow Rumped Thornbill


4 Responses to “Ethics of bird watching”

  1. Snail says:

    Excellent post!

    This is not quite the same situation but I tend to be a bit secretive about the localities of some ‘collectable’ species of land snails.

  2. Trevor says:

    Thanks Snail. Hadn’t considered snails as being ‘collectable.’ We tend to be the same when we find some of the rarer native plants. We take a photo and a GPS reading and leave it at that. Some trusted friends who understand the dangers involved are sometimes shown at a later date. Not all in the plant world can be trusted, however, so we choose carefully whom we tell.

  3. Ruth says:

    Interesting, it’s not something I do myself, but the birding guides at nearby Hagerman wildlife refuge do use bird calls when we go out birding. Of course, it’s out in the wilds, so the birds aren’t being ‘taught’ to come into danger – and actually doesn’t seem to impress them much anyway.

    BTW, recent storms in Florida have killed a large contingent of the whooping crane flock that was being established there. See;

  4. Trevor says:

    Thanks for the comments Ruth. Opinions are divided on the merits and dangers of calling birds so you can observe them at closer quarters. I use the technique sparingly.

    I had already heard of the tragedy of the Whooping Cranes, but thanks for alerting me to this news.

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