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You’re not going to believe this, but I’m going to be exceedingly brief in this blog post. Here’s the deal: I’d like you to click on this link to a .PDF of Diana Doyle’s commentary in the current (March 2012) issue of Birding magazine. Or, if you’d prefer, do it the old-fashioned way: Just whip out your copy of the March 2012 issue, turn to p. 56, and start reading.

Ed Rother - Cluster of AppsI’m confident that it’s impossible that you won’t have at least some sort of reaction to something, somewhere, in Diana’s commentary. I mean, just the title of her commentary—“Good Birders Don’t Flash White iPhones: iEtiquette in the Field”—pushes half a dozen buttons I can think of!

Once again, click on this link to get to Diana’s commentary.

And then enter your comments below. Who knows—Maybe the ABA Code of Birding Ethics will be amended as a result of the discussion here at The ABA Blog. Or perhaps your local park or refuge will change its policy about the use of playback. And I can tell you this: I know for a fact that some of the app designers are paying attention.

Go for it! Enter your comments below, and together we just might impact the future of birding.


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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. He is the author of more than 100 magazine and journal articles, and has written four recent books, including an ABA title, the ABA Guide to Birds of Colorado. Floyd is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and state ornithological society meetings, and he has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Mainly, he listens to birds at night.
Ted Floyd

Latest posts by Ted Floyd (see all)

  • This was an extraordinarily well-balanced article. But I disagree with one point: She claims that chumming for tubenoses is one of “these human interventions [that] have the same effect: They interrupt bird activity and
    draw the birds closer, causing them to expend unproductive energy.”

    Chumming for gulls and seabirds does indeed draw the birds closer, but if the activity they were engaged in was searching for food, and if the food provided is reasonably healthy fare, I don’t see how the interaction falls into the same category as playback.

  • Boy howdy, this is an argument, ain’t nobody gonna come away happy from…

    I fall neatly into the “nature boy” group. I find all these extra doo-dads unnecessarily distracting, but I also don’t list competitively, I rarely chase and I had folks complain that the pictures I posted on the ebirds flickr site “weren’t rare enough”.

    If there were only one kind of birder, there’d be no problem, but as this forum continually demonstrates, there are 8 or 9 kinds of birders and we all think we represent what a “real birder” is. Ban ipods and you’ll be called a Luddite and an old fart. Allow them and get called a yabow or something more unprintable if my good friend Steve is around.

    Ban electronics and even the most ardently ethical will find an occasion to rationalize “just this once”. And then there are the self-appointed policemen who will cause more ruckus through efforts to enforce than the actual device was likely to cause.

    I choose places where others don’t go. I choose to pay attention to species others don’t chase. When placed in a position where I have to share space with others, I take off my “nature boy” hat and put on the “teacher” hat or the “scientist” hat or the “Volkswagen mechanics” hat.

    I genuinely believe that even carrying a bird book gets in the way of the experience, but that’s a value claim that comes with my view of what the experience should be. And I learned long ago that world is full of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and people who don’t vote but complain anyway.

    I just try to stay out of the way…

  • Good point, Laura—I should have been more clear. I had in mind the dripping of menhaden oil (no food) rather than the tossing of bait chunks (food). Both methods draw in seabirds as they smell the fishy stink. Chumming with actual fish food pieces is comparable to feeding birds. Chumming with an oil slick draws them in on the scent of fish, but with no compensation for their energy expended. But one could argue that the fish oil isn’t luring seabirds, since many species approach anyway to ride a boat’s stern wake, knowing that the prop wash stirs up the water and makes food available at the surface. The fish oil (as does any oil) “settles” the water disturbance (an old sailor’s trick) which may make the birds’ feeding easier…

  • To be fair, you did indeed mention fish oil in the article. I just wanted to point out that some chumming is worse than other chumming. Of course, some people think feeding birds itself is automatically a bad thing, so that can go either way.

  • Ted Floyd

    Agreed, chumming is probably a drop in the bucket. (Or, rather, a drop from the bucket, eh?)

    But what about the matter of bird feeding in general? (And the related matter of nest box building?) Nest predators like corvids, blackbirds, and raccoons have benefited from bird feeding. Winter range shifts of hummingbirds are widely attributed to bird feeding. And then there are the Bald Eagles of Homer, Alaska…

    By feeding birds, whether deliberately (e.g., chumming, sugar water, millet for songbirds, freezer-burn fish for Bald Eagles) or not (see Amanda Rodewald’s article in the January 2012 Birding), we are affecting not only individual birds but indeed whole populations and communities of birds.

  • And depending on the corporation selling the seed, bird feed can be dangerous for birds’ health. (See the news stories and GrrlScientist’s excellent discussion of Scotts Miracle-Gro company selling bird seed laced with bird-killing pesticides this week, linked on my personal blog.)

    I think the joys of bird feeding (when we can be sure our offerings are healthful) are important and time-honored. Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau both engaged in it, and Wisconsin studies have shown that chickadees are more likely to survive severe winters where bird feeders are available.

    Really, though, getting into issues like this in the depth they deserve is pretty hard in a comments section. I suspect that the extraordinary evenhandedness in Diana’s article explains why there haven’t been more comments. I posted a link to the story on facebook, and the only comments other than “great article” were about my own parenthetical comment that I don’t approve of using “dialog” as a verb.

  • Ted Floyd

    Alrighty, just to stir things up a bit: iPods and playback, anyone??

    I’m not talking about the affects of playback on birds. Rather, I’m thinking of how iPods might affect other birders.

    Specifically, I have this question: Is the use of playback analogous to smoking? Some birders (many birders, probably) would just as soon not have you light up next to them. And some birders (many, surely) don’t care. Regardless, I’ve noticed of late that it’s pretty much expected that, in group birding situations, one either doesn’t light up at all or at least steps far enough away from the group that nobody will notice the second-hand smoke.

    Same thing with iPods?? Should an iPod user, like a smoker, assume that his or her companions don’t want to be exposed to second-hand sound?

    I’m just asking.

  • I think iPod sound use has two different components for other birders. 1) Some are irritated when someone nearby is playing the sound, taking them out of the moment. But maybe worse is 2) Someone not quite so nearby doesn’t even know someone is playing an iPod and thinks they’re actually hearing a cool bird.

  • Ted Floyd

    Now if the conversation were to turn to iPod use in the field… 😉

  • Here’s a real-life scenario I experienced yesterday at a very popular birding location in Florida. To set up the story, the entrance gate sign explicitly prohibited playback.
    I was listening to a strong “chip” call coming from a marsh area when a car pulled up and unloads a group of birders: obviously a paid guide and his very well-to-do clients, complete with $2000 bins and field guides in hand. Immediately a device comes out, playing a Marsh Wren song, and up pops “my bird.” The guide quickly gets the clients on the bird, they hop back in the car, off to the next stop…
    No one asked me “Do you mind?” or even let me (or the other birders within earshot) know that a device was about to play. (Repeat: the area also prohibited playback.)
    Now I’ll admit publicly I’m not personally keen on playback. Despite always carrying hundreds of bird songs on my hip-riding iPhone, I have used playback less than the fingers on my two hands. So you’d think I’d be livid standing in the dust as the car left.
    But I wasn’t. Why not I wondered?
    I realized the guide was only trying to make a living in a tough Florida economy. Like a fishing charter captain, if he didn’t deliver a “big fish,” or a good haul of little fish, then he’d lose these clients and they’d tell their friends… Unlike me, there for a leisurely day off, he couldn’t wait the bird out.
    So my previously strident “no playback” view had to soften a bit, as I understood his quandary. The dilemma of clients who demand a high tick day forced this situation. I left feeling badly about the situation, and empathizing with the human side of his need to use of playback.

  • Smokers are a good analogy, but I think the folks who let their dogs run off-leash is better, especially the one’s who get upset and start cursing at you when you tell them you don’t want their dog sniffing your crotch and pawing you with muddy feet, insisting that the dog isn’t hurting anyone and is a part of nature, too, and has just as much right to run around free as we do and those lazy birds were just sitting there anyway and needed the exercise and if you don’t like my dog chasing you then don’t come here.

    I’ve had essentially the same response (minus the crotch sniffing) from big-lens camera people and serial play-back folk.

  • The article does an excellent job of raising issues that we’re going to have to come to terms with one way or another. I fully appreciate that the ABA Code of Ethics is an evolving document, but I think the #1 most important thing about it is that it exists at all.

    But how many people actually know about it? I’ve been on field trips where people will walk right at Roseate Spoonbills, trying to get as close as possible for their “perfect” picture, until they inevitably flush. I’ve noted to trip leaders that one way to reduce that sort of behavior might be to give an overview of the ABA Code of Ethics at the start of the trip, and those that I’ve spoken to seemed open to the idea. Maybe this is one area where the ABA could do some outreach, by asking trip leaders, not just to abide by the code, but to evangelize it. It seems to me that people might be more respectful if their attention is drawn to the experiences of others.

    In that sense, having a code of ethics could be more important than what it says. And in the long run, once more people know about the code, it would also mean that there are more people to contribute to the dialogue about the content of those rules.

  • Ted Floyd

    FYI, y’all, here’s the ABA Code of Birding Ethics:

  • Ted Floyd

    Below I reproduce Section 4 of the ABA Code of Birding Ethics. And I reproduce in boldface those passages of Section 4 that seem to me to be especially relevant to the situation Diana found herself in:


    4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.

    Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.

    4(a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.

    4(b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.

    Group Leader Responsibilities [amateur and professional trips and tours].

    4(c) Be an exemplary ethical role model for the group. Teach through word and example.

    4(d) Keep groups to a size that limits impact on the environment, and does not interfere with others using the same area.

    4(e) Ensure everyone in the group knows of and practices this code.

    4(f) Learn and inform the group of any special circumstances applicable to the areas being visited (e.g. no tape recorders allowed).

    4(g) Acknowledge that professional tour companies bear a special responsibility to place the welfare of birds and the benefits of public knowledge ahead of the company’s commercial interests. Ideally, leaders should keep track of tour sightings, document unusual occurrences, and submit records to appropriate organizations.

  • Ted Floyd

    Diana calls it “trying to make a living in a tough Florida economy.” The ABA Code of Birding Ethics calls it “the company’s commercial interests.”

    As always, there are two sides to the story…

  • Hmm. I guess we do need to keep these issues fresh in the minds of new birders. But …. I don’t know. It’s like Bill Maher wrote in the New York Times today: I think we need to stop apologizing constantly. When we go birding, we disturb birds in some way. Heisenberg, or whatever. If we stay home, we disturb birds a bit less. If we feed birds, we introduce a whole new set of problems, yes, in many ways. (Just ask the folks at The Scotts Company.) I have pished, I have played back, and I have chummed. But I have also published, eBirded, guided, sounded alarm bells, advocated, encouraged, mentored, lobbied, and voted. I sometimes feel that we, birders, dwell on these tiny ethical questions and too often shun larger issues. Would I prefer to march a group of a dozen birders into a fragile habitat or instead touch an iPod for 10 seconds, bring a bird into view for 15 seconds, and never leave the path? And have a half-dozen donations to local conservation? I agree that we should consider the impacts of our behavior (next Changing Seasons essay); but perspective is very important. And I do not, at all, believe that Diana’s experience of the Marsh Wren is representative of all guided birding field trips, whether for pay or not for pay. Playback is less invasive than many birding behaviors, and a stark abstract sense of “ethics” is less useful here than some common sense.

  • Ned Brinkley talks as though the use of playback is somehow preventative of birders going off the path. Unless you loop the playback to draw the bird right up close, Sally Sue may want to get a good close up photo with her new 4 power digital point and shoot camera, or Billy Boy will want to see every tertial. So after the playback brings the bird into view these two may tromp off into the fragile habitat to get their closer views, compounding the invasive impacts.

    I would be interested in research showing the impacts of various birding behaviors including playback.

  • Kevin J. Zimmer

    I would like to second everything that Ned Brinkley posted on this topic. Every second that we waste on issues of miniscule or no importance to bird conservation such as the perceived evils of playback, pishing, or chumming is time that could have been spent addressing things that really matter, such as habitat loss, pollution from agrochemicals, bird predation by feral and domestic cats, etc. As Ned has alluded, there are many times when playback is a much lower impact method of seeing a bird, particularly in group situations, than choosing to do it “old school” by going off-road or off-trail and pursuing the bird in question for a more prolonged period of time. And for those that insist that even low-level disturbance to any bird is unacceptable, I would suggest you ponder long and hard as to whether you pass the purity test. Have you ever stopped your car beside a perched raptor on a pole, only to have it fly? Have you ever flushed a feeding group of shorebirds attempting to get a closer look? Have you ever spot-lighted an owl or nightjar? For that matter, have you ever flushed any bird from its nest or from its feeding activities? On a broader scale, do you use fossil fuel driven vehicles to pursue birds? And have you ever inadvertently hit a bird with your car? Do you listen to radio stations whose antenna towers result in hundreds or even thousands of migratory bird fatalities every year? And how does one reconcile making it illegal to play an audio recording to a Dusky Grouse, when, in the same forest, it is legal for anyone with a hunting permit to shoot one? I could go on and on. The fact is, as Ned stated, that the very act of birding or even just being out in nature walking around, carries with it an inherent level of disturbance to birds. Unless you are willing to stay home, living in a cave, growing your own 100% organic foods, not burning fossil fuels and not supporting any industry that pollutes or destroys avian habitats, then your existence is contributing (at primary, secondary or tertiary levels) to disturbing birds at some level. As a biologist, I have zero doubt that in the vast majority of cases, the biggest single result of a bird being subjected to too much playback is that the bird rapidly figures out that the playback is an artificial stimulus, and simply stops responding. It doesn’t abandon its territory, it doesn’t starve, it doesn’t drop dead from stress, it simply starts ignoring the playback. And because of this, I would argue that the primary (potential) negative impact of playback is on other birders, not the birds themselves. And because of this, common sense, as Ned says, could prove a lot more useful to heading off any problems than “evangelizing” some codified sense of ethics. Most tour leaders that I know avoid playback when other birders are around, simply to avoid interfering with what they are doing. Except in the most heavily birded areas, a common bird subjected to playback is statistically unlikely to be subjected to additional playback in the same season (or possibly even in its lifetime). Avoiding playback of rare birds in heavily birded areas, primarily as a courtesy to other birders, is a commonsense solution that really doesn’t require a pledge of allegiance to a Code. One of the examples of something that might be perceived as bad birding ethics listed by Diana Doyle in her thought provoking piece in Birding was the following: “Nigel was appalled at the cacophony of synthetic shutter noise during a recent visit to Hawk Ridge; cameras shotgunned every “good” raptor that soared by.” I realize this is a hypothetical example. But really? NO, REALLY? Is this what we want? For the ethics police to ban camera use, not because the shutters are disturbing the birds, but because they are somehow offensive to the sensibilities of other birders? What’s next? Perhaps my sensibilities are offended by the birder walking down a forest trail in a white tee shirt that stands out like a neon sign and frightens wildlife. Or maybe I don’t like to hear human voices shattering my sense of a wilderness experience. Perhaps we should ban talking on trails? While we’re at it, I’m sure that posting the presence of rare birds on list-serves, RBAs and trailhead signs detracts from the potential sense of discovery and euphoria that comes with finding the bird for oneself. Ban them all! Absurd examples? Possibly, but no less absurd than a ban on digital cameras, iPods or group birding, all of which apparently offends some segment of the birding community. Can’t we all just try to be both a little more considerate in our own actions, and a little more tolerant of others who are indulging a shared passion, each in his/her own individual way?

  • Michael Retter

    I’m not sure either is a good analogy. Hearing and iPod won’t kill you. Second-hand smoke or a loose pit bull can.

  • Michael Retter

    Excellent post, Ned. I could not agree more.

    SeEtta, Ned is right on the money. I recall an ABA convention a few years ago when we field trip leaders were told we would not be allowed to use playback, including on trips to see Swainson’s Warbler. There was an instant revolt among the leaders, mainly because of the welfare of the birds. I led one of those trips. Thanks to my iPod, instead of 40 people trampling through the woods, destroying habitat, and potentially stepping on birds’ nests, we had 40 people standing on a road, waiting for about a minute for a Swainson’s Warbler to come in to playback. We watched it sing for about 30 seconds, after which it went about its business. The total amount of time we disturbed the bird was under 2 minutes, and there was zero habitat disturbance.

  • Michael Retter

    David Sibley recently wrote a blog post about playback, including references to studies on it:

    Interestingly, there is (as yet) no evidence of a negative effect on bird populations due to playback.

  • Michael Retter

    *an iPod, that is

  • Ali

    Playback is not my problem, it is mimicry. I can’t help myself in repeating the sound I hear. Probably why I almost always bird alone! 😉

  • Guilty as charged. I absent-mindedly “chip” all the time when birding. In a group, someone inevitably whips around in a double-take that some little bird is very close.

    Anyway, I’ll echo the “bigger picture” sentiment. If I take a group owling and manage to call in a bird or two myself, the folks on the trip can end up more impressed with me than with the bird. If I instead broadcast a recorded call there are two benefits: First, we’re more likely that a bird actually will respond and come in for a close look and second, the focus will be more fully on the birds than on the guy with the mad bird-calling skills.

  • Abrahm

    Some of the issues brought up appear to just be about respect or differences in approach to birding. People have different values, expectations and goals for birding and that’s something we should accept and embrace. It’s a diverse hobby.

    Take the guy thumb-typing while in the field. Sure he’s absorbed in what he is doing but just because you think he should be social or enjoying nature doesn’t mean that’s right. This might be his break after two hours or maybe he’s signalling to you that he enjoys birding alone and prefers to be by himself with nature. Maybe he has a horrible memory for detail and he’s madly cataloging markings of a bird he just saw to help confirm the ID.

    I see the same thing with the choices of accessories a birder takes into the field. Some may want a field guide because they’re not great at recalling visual memories or they don’t yet know what details to seize on and remember. Another may have their iPod (with earbuds) to confirm songs because similarly they are bad with remembering sound. One person prefers paper and pen, another guy memorizes everything and writes it down in the car and a third knows he will only document anything if he has his iPad.

    I don’t have much to say on playback, but I think some other posters made excellent points about them being used minimally to limit the damage that could be caused by going off trail.

    Some of the example responses in the article to me seem passive-aggressive. If someone’s cellphone on vibrate bothers you tell your fellow and try to work out a compromise or understanding. They might be perfectly willing to put it in Airplane mode or maybe their sister is due to have a baby any day and she needs to know. Same thing with disturbing thumb-typer. Sure, say hi but if he just says hi back and gives you closed off body language respect that.

    I was reading another bloggers post about harnessing the lobbying power of birders (here ) that I thought tied in excellently. A boots on the ground, active, visible and local (but more broadly connected) group of inclusive birders would have a lot of power. Power to lobby for birding land use, conservation and also to be positive role models to other birders. That role model aspect alone would be valuable. Having a prominent group that meets often in low key meetings (like Birds and Beers, coffee shop groups, etc.) is well advertised at community centers, parks and nature centers but also acts in the field would work to show by example, get people involved and be an impetus to make people think by exposure to different ideas and experiences.

  • I agree with Ned and Kevin that bird conservation issues are paramount. Might digital devices bring a younger generation into birding and into an appreciation of issues like habitat conservation?

  • Kevin J. Zimmer

    Diana – That certainly seems to be the case in Brazil, where digital photography has ushered in a whole new bunch of birders, young and old. In general, everywhere I go in Latin America, the young birders are more tech savvy and tuned into the birding social media than many birders in the US. I would say that for many of them, the second most important piece of birding equipment in their arsenal (next to their binoculars) is their smart phone or Blackberry, which they use for playback, recording, digiscoping (including video) and alerting other birders to good finds.

    I just think in general, that the bigger our tent, the better, and that anything that seeks to exclude a segment of the birding community (such as bans on playback, digital photography, etc.) is going to be counterproductive to the goals of bird conservation and promoting birding and ecotourism.

  • Ted Floyd

    But there are those of us, I assure you, for whom a taped-in bird gets a yucky asterisk. I’m down with heard-only birds; I’m all over exotics; I’m even cool with birds in a mist net. A taped-in bird, though: Blech. Puh-leeze. Mark it with an asterisk; better view desired.

    At the Lafayette, Louisiana, ABA Convention (Michael, is that the one you’re talking about?), a joyous highlight was hearing an unseen Swainson’s Warbler chipping (not singing) in an impenetrable tangle. Didn’t want to see it. Woulda been decidedly irked if someone had taped it out. The whole experience, for me, was the mystery and wonder of the unseen, yet definitively ID’d bird.

    For sure, I realize, that’s not how everybody would want to enjoy a Swainson’s Warbler. But it’s how some of us want to. It’s good for the leaders to know what the clients actually want. Do the clients want a taped-in bird? In my experience: Some do, some don’t. (And I say so from the perspective of one who read the field trip evaluations; not all participants were pleased that playback was used.)

    True story: At the wonderful Minot conference a few years ago, we reveled in Wilson’s Snipes displaying, unseen, on a misty morning–and we pitied the poor folks who were able to report “seen-only” encounters with the species.

    I repeat: Some of us would rather hear than see. Especially, one would think, with so glorious a songster as the drab Swainson’s Warbler.

  • Ted Floyd

    Agreed with Kevin, Ned, et al. on the conservation angle.

    As to the human angle, I guess I find myself going back to my observation that, for some birders, use of playback is highly annoying. I, personally, would rather have my crotch licked by a dog (cf. Mike Patterson), or smell secondhand smoke, or get hit in the head by an errant frisbee, or smacked into by a kid on a skateboard, or plunged into a deep pit full of boiling acid and angry hornets, than hear birdsong playback.

    So, yeah, if you’re gonna plunge me into a pit full of boiling ants and angry hornets, can’t you ask first? Or if you’re gonna light up and cause me to have cancer, can’t you ask first? I’m easy. I’ll tell ya: Fine; go for it. But as to playback, I’ll tell ya: This park isn’t big enough for the two of us… 😉

    Then there’s Rick Romea and his thing with floppy hats.

    A final thought. Seriously, Kevin’s concluding remark is wonderful. Let’s all take it to heart:

    “Can’t we all just try to be both a little more considerate in our own actions, and a little more tolerant of others who are indulging a shared passion, each in his/her own individual way?”

    I’m convicted. Next time I hear playback, I’ll be less unforgiving.

  • Ted Floyd

    Big picture: I totally agree with Kevin. We have more important things to worry about than our hangups with floppy hats (Rick Romea), crotch-licking dogs (Mike Patterson), and birdsong playback (yours truly). I totally get that, and I appreciate the persuasiveness and forcefulness with which Kevin has made his point.

    That said, I’m still intrigued by the little things that annoy us. A few months ago on the ABA’s Facebook group page, Jeff Bouton unleashed an epic melee about how birders dress. On the one hand, none of it mattered in terms of habitat protection, clean water, etc. On the other hand, I was fascinated by all the strong opinions.

    Diana’s wonderful commentary, remember, is about iEtiquette. Not iEthics. But if ethics is where the conversation is headed, that’s wonderful. Bring it on.

  • Ted Floyd

    No exaggeration: Over the years, I’ve been asked 200 times, at an absolute minimum, if it’s okay to feed birds. Probably more like 1,000 times.

    And I almost always (depends a bit on context…) provide some version of the following: “Well, no. All things considered, it’s not good for birds. But feeding birds has connected literally millions of people with birds and nature; and many thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of those people have actually gone on to do something on behalf of birds and their habitats. And it all started at the bird feeder.”

    If iPod playback is connecting a younger generation with nature (a thought this puny brain is incapable of wrapping itself around), then bring it on.

  • To reply to all (Ted, Diana, Kevin, above), I think I’m less likely to separate etiquette from ethics, and indeed the opening material (above) raises the question of the ABA Code of Ethics (which treats many of the issues in Diana’s piece) – and the crux of that piece, for me at least, was the question: “Have digital devices made it more imperative than ever to consider the ABA Code of Birding Ethics regarding public access, habitat, and species before a post? Is there value in slowing the rat race of Internet chasing?” There is a great deal of red meat (as the pundits say) for discussion, and Diana is right to phrase most of her article in question form. I still come back to my sense that birders – as a community – love to dwell on miniscule infractions (disturbance of birders, disturbance of birds) rather than on things that matter. It reminds me of arguments among co-workers on, say, “The Howard Stern Show” – people whose salaries range from five million to fifty million per year – about things as trivial as “who took the ornamental cookie off the cupcake but left the rest of the cupcake?” It might be annoying, yes, but there are 40 more untouched cupcakes, most of which will be tossed into the garbage at the end of the day. Oh, and YOU’RE MAKING FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS, by the way. We need to get past the “pet peeve” stage and into the “roll up your sleeves” stage, fast. If someone annoys you because of the way they dress, sound, smell, or look – then walk away from them. You probably annoy people every bit as much! If you’re birding as a way to seek quiet communion with the natural world, maybe consider birding in a place that’s not full of birders?

  • Jean Neely

    I have an iPod Touch that I use (all in caps) during non-breeding season ONLY. ‘Birds Eye’ is the app I use and its soft reproduction of the bird song/call is such that I can hear and ID the bird by voice recognition. I never use it when others are around since I agree completely that it can be intrusive to others’ enjoyment of the outdoors.
    Although the Pete Dunn pronouncement of ‘killing you and your kids’ as the signal sent to the avian listeners by playback is colorful, I’m not sure that birds have the necessary brain chemistry during the winter, let’s say, to even recognize ‘their’ song. Breeding season is another story, of course.
    In further comment along this same thread, I would strenuously object to such tactics as continuous playback of a rail’s alarm call (to lure them out of the reeds, for example) at any time of the year. It certainly must be stressful for the birds.
    Doesn’t it make sense to be considerate and respectful of both other people and the birds?

  • Going back to the foundation of the ABA Code of Birding Ethics, I originally considered structuring the article around a “digital interpretation” of the individual codes.
    For example:
    1(b) implies turn off all sound on digital devices.

    1(c) relates to instant reporting from your Blackberry, where it is important to first run an appropriateness checklist of property access, habitat, breeding/nesting, roosting, the particular species, …

    2(c) implies put away your device when others approach.

    4(a) suggests that consent should be requested from other birders before using digital playback.

    4(c), extended to teaching and accessibility, implies using a tablet (such as an iPad), with its larger typeface and broader viewing angle, rather than a tiny mobile device (such as an iPhone) when leading groups and using multimedia field guides, particularly with older birders and groups of children.

    And so on…

  • Bird Nut

    The absense of evidence (for negative impact of playback on whole bird populations) is not evidence. There has also not been any studies on whether or not dropping heavy hammers can impact one’s toes at a population level. In the absense of evidence, common sense should prevail. But even if one can’t rely on common sense, and must have a study, there have been studies on individual birds that have shown that bird songs are territorial, and affect those individuals.
    Therefore, it doesn’t take much of a leap of thinking to realize the implications of playback.

    I believe the comment “No research has demonstrated a negative impact of playback on birds at the population level.” is a cop-out and rationalization for unethical behavior and represents a selfish disregard for birds. Especially since such a study at the population level has never been performed, and studies have shown the negative impact on individual birds rather than whole populations.

    I suppose if there is plenty of habitat, then scaring a bird off a prime breeding spot isn’t too significant, but that assumes there are plenty of other prime breeding spots for the bird.

  • Catherine Hamilton

    A small point, but pertinent in terms of accuracy of reporting. In the article’s example of photographer noise at a hawk watch “the cacophony of synthetic shutter noise” as “cameras shotgunned” is a colorful description, but only once in a great while are any of those cameras a digital point and shoot type that can turn off the shutter noise. The vast majority of cameras you see (particularly at a hawk watch) are digital SLRs, and that shutter noise is mechanical, not digital, and as such can not be turned off. Whether or not the shutter noise is bothersome could be an issue, but not as described.

  • In the same vein, I’m struck by how frequently the ABA Code of Birding Ethics is invoked in a general sort of way (“Be ethical!”), yet rarely with regard to its specific prohibitions and exhortations (e.g., “If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.”).

    The ABA Code of Birding Ethics isn’t just a mission statement. It contains specific language.

    A bit off-topic: If a bird is gotten in violation of the ABA Code of Birding Ethics (e.g., in violation of Section 2(a), viz., “Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission.”), should that bird be disqualified from one’s official ABA list?

  • First I have not read the article yet but after reading the blog posts I said here we go again.Ted you remember in the early years of ABA the debate,discussion,harangue over listing heard birds and counting them as life birds that seemed to go on forever. It seems that we have found another topic that we can try to beat into submission. Why try to justify an action that is not generally accepted as “good birding “.
    There will always be the jerk in the field and unless we condone the use of firearms the jerks will always remain.If someone has an earwire attachment and simply wants to compare the calls ,what’s the problem? There is no resulting artificial sound. And what’s wrong with using a device to interpert the sound and tell you what it is? I know they have this for music but not sure about birds.
    I have always believed that the ABA Guidlines are definitive and clear. If a “birder” chooses to be a jerk their name needs to be published in their birding areas and their actions need to be stated.
    By never stating anything we are simply rewarding negative behavior.
    I hope I haven’t strayed too far off the issue.

  • Yup, I agree with Ned’s assessment.

    It boils down to awareness and common sense. Putting the bird’s interests ahead of great photos and rarity sightings.

    And, yes, the whole endeavor of pointing binoculars at birds could be construed as detrimental to their welfare. How many raptors, looking for lunch, are flushed this way every day? My non-birder Dad says “give the birds a rest”.

    Back to playback, it’s seems clear that playback of Elegant Trogon calls by hundreds of birders visiting Cave Creek Canyon will have a negative impact. However, as a neurobiolgist, I wonder how much is known about the impact of single playback call on the neighborhood Winter Wren. Perspective and prudence.

  • Typically, this is constructed of deer or perhaps calf disguise Red Soled shoes.

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