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Nikon Monarch 7

    Open Mic: Rage Against the Machines – The case against pressing Play to tick

    At the Mic: Chris McCreedy

    Chris McCreedy is currently a biologist for Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science and a graduate student at the University of Arizona. The views expressed in this blog post represent the personal opinions of the author.

    –=====–

    Are you Chris McCreedy?

    The car slowly pulled up next to me as I birded the river road.

    Whoa, yes. How do you know that?

    I Googled you! I recognize you from your pictures. You were ahead of me by two species, but then I passed you up.

    I smiled. This was weird but fun. Competition!

    Dang, I said. What did you find?

    I got the siskins at the river, and I found the woodpeckers.

    That’s awesome! They were beautiful. Where did you find them?

    Oh, I couldn’t find them, so I went back and played a tape to get them.

    My face screwed up. I don’t like playing tapes much was what I managed to say through my disappointment.

     =====

        On-line listservs, eBird, and smartphones have changed birding, and of course, listing. If I want tofind a Wrentit, I can load up a map of the month’s eBird sightings within a 100-mile radius in under 45 seconds. If I want my birds spoon-fed to me, I can sign up for a needs alert for immediate notifications of sightings of unticked birds in my area. If I am blowing my day on an Arizona Ovenbird that never was, my iPhone can save me from my folly in order to chase the Eastern Wood-Pewee that was just heard across the county.

    This is no Luddite rant; I love eBird. I find the website and my friends’ checklists endlessly fascinating. eBird’s daily-updated Top-100 lists were a stroke of genius, an ego-engine that motivates hundreds of users to spend untold hours entering their data into eBird for free. If you doubt the power of their pull, watch an eBird staffer muse on the number of hits the top-100 URLs draw daily.  The competition! The
    fury! A motivation for the playback.

    If someone tries to tell you that playback recordings do not have a negative impact on birds, ask them if that bridge is still for sale. I’ve watched cowbirds cue on Willow Flycatcher excitement in response to playbacks. I’ve even seen cowbirds skip that step and cue on the flycatcher playbacks themselves. Disturbance effects from playback are a question of degree, of species, and of location, and it certainly frames my
    approach to birding. Yet disturbance is not my issue here.

     ====

         I drove across Michigan nearly three hours in the dark, my first serious twitch since my return. This solitaire was in the dunes, in a state park that I once visited in a wayback forest ecology class because of its unique stands of old growth trees. I was so excited to be back! Beeches!
    A wandering western winged monster! A worthy twitch, a true expedition. Early gray January light greeted me when I pulled in. Cars were already in the parking lot. The temperature was slated to hit a gassy 60-something. A great lake was behind those dunes somewhere.

    I unfolded a piece of paper. An eBird user had detailed the stakeout to the exact tree— all I had to do was print out their checklist. Walk
    here. Turn there. Stand, wait. I walked. I found a small group of birders near the tree. They were super friendly.

    Is it here? I asked.

    It just left about two minutes ago.

    I started laughing. It will come back! Then, less certain: I hope it comes back.

    Without hesitating, one birder pulled out his phone. Oh I can call it in.

    I had come across this situation before, with a big lister in Arizona. As then, I asked them not to call it in, and like in Arizona, gracefully they respected my request. To our cheers, the bird soon topped a nearby dune and warily approached its juniper fix. After driving two or three hours to arrive here, they left in five minutes – onto the next tick. It gave me a chance to dawdle, to goof on the dunes, mindmeld with the solitaire, and to try a few exposures in the hesitant January light (here).

     ====

    To my memory, outside of research requirements, I have used playbacks twice. In 2011, my friends invited me to try a Mono County big day with them, and then we did it again two weeks later. At our first stop, a friend broke out a small set of speakers and an iPod. I was amazed. What are you doing? I asked. We have to use recordings, otherwise we’ll never beat the record.

    7411230752_a8da3d3286_z
    Northern Saw-whet Owls can be found without playback, you just have to look a little harder, photo by Chris McCreedy

    To many, listing is self-indulgent, a game. It is also really fun. Those Mono days were two of the best of my life; I love my friends and I love Mono.  We would have beaten the record without the tapes – and spared ourselves the embarrassment of tooling around at 5PM, blaring Mountain Quail calls from a Toyota MPV like jackasses. As fakes on bikes cry on the news that they had to dope in order to compete, I think about Mono and my playback encounters of recent weeks.

    A tick conveys some bragging rights. It is a measure of earned knowledge, luck,  planning, respect for the birds and their ecology,  communication with your peers, persistence, and hard work. Each species represents untold glorious dips, days where you took it in the shorts chasing that unchaseable hawk while your rival gained three on you across the state. Yet with all of our internet gadgetry, the inclusion of playback renders the tick an entirely prosaic measure of one’s ability to click a mouse, to drive, follow a map, own a smartphone with an app,
    and to press Play. Why boast about this? Why riff on a wild night of owl playbacks on your big year blog?

    It seems that many more of my friends use playback if they need a tick than I would have believed.  The most common form of denial is, I
    had to be in the right spot to play the tape
    . This is a way of saying ‘I used skill to get to the spot to play the recording’. Sorry, my high school writing assignments required more research effort than looking up Barred Owls on eBird maps. Another example is You’re young; older birders cannot hear their birds and so they need to bring them in. While I fear and loathe the thought that one day I will not be able to hear Rock Wrens, retired birders can also spend all day, perhaps every day, looking for their birds. One of my favorite angles was this: I am helping eBird by finding owls with playbacks.  I hadn’t realized nobility resided so close to rationalization.

    Playback remains an important (and occasionally required) research tool, and I believe that playback can be extremely effective in
    education and outreach. If I have my ABA Ethics correct, limited use of playbacks is encouraged. But given the rise of internet-based birding
    aids and the prevalence of smartphones, I dream that the ABA would forswear the use of playbacks for ticking, just for the sport of it, to give the endeavor a little art. Otherwise, why keep track? Who cares if you cannot find the sky but you can find the smartphone in your pocket? I doubt that will happen; tour guides would go bananas, we would not know what to do with our old lists and the world would then definitely explode.

    Listing is about the birds, the birds! Birds are beautiful, ugly, weird, and they have wings. They are hard to find! And to me, they disappear when you press Play, replaced by a number.

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    The ABA Blog's Open Mics offer an opportunity for members of the birding community to share their voice with the ABA audience. We accept all and any submissions. If you have something you'd like to share, please contact blog editor Nate Swick at [email protected]
    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      I think a lot of birders will identify with this post…a LOT. I’m not sure how constructive it is, though. I think we need to respect the fact that each birder birds in their own way, and many things birders do have a “negative impact on birds.” Playback, pishing, imitated calls, flushing, consuming lots of fossil fuels on twitches, etc. – these all can have negative impacts on birds. I don’t understand why *judicious and limited* playback gets so villainized by some birders. How is it worse than these other things?

      I rarely use playback myself outside of big day competitions. I don’t find it very enjoyable and prefer to have birding experiences more like Chris’s solitaire example. But to each their own, I say. Some people prefer to just tick things off on a list as fast as possible, and that’s cool. Having said that, people who love playback for getting fast ticks still need to follow the ethics of limited use. Those who don’t are the ones who need to be called out, not everyone that chooses to use playback at all.

    • Tim in Albion

      Playback isn’t the problem. Treating birding like a competitive sport, THAT is the problem. The author’s claim that “Listing is about the birds” is absurd; “listing” is about the birder, and the human desire to compete against other birders. You want to reduce bad behavior? Stop fostering the competitive aspect, stop treating birding like a game.

      I’d hoped to find a rational discussion of the possible effects of playback on the birds themselves, so imagine my disappointment when the author admits “disturbance is not my issue here.” All he’s concerned with is the game. I suppose that explains why a biologist indulges in non-scientific binary thinking and self-righteousness.

      The ABA obsession with listing is really putting me off.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      Tim, considering that the ABA was originally founded as an organization for people that enjoy birding as a “competitive sport,” I think you’ll find it a hard sell to suggest that the ABA adopt the viewpoint that listing is a problem…

      Again, to each birder their own. We all have a right to enjoy birding however we see fit, as long as we all abide by the code of birding ethics. There will be cheaters in every sport, including birding, but we don’t abandon the sport altogether because of the few bad apples.

      • Paris Saizan

        Whether competition was the impetus of birding is insignificant. In fact, we are not trying to maintain the rich ideals of competitive birding. We are trying to see birds in the most non-obtrusive way possible. This means that digital collection of bird calls is for our assistance in memorizing or simply remembering the call of the species we seek. It is foolhardy to think our impact remains minimal if we draw out the bird of our longing. Ear buds solve this problem in the most elegant manner and the bird is none the wiser while the birder remains innocuous. It is, in fact, the dominant species gaining joy from viewing this fragile superstar of Nature’s kingdom.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/offshorebirder Nate Dias

      Great Post, Chris!

      I refer to this growing horde of “spoon-fed”, Internet-dependent twitchers (who rarely, if ever discover their own rarities) as “bottom feeders”. Perhaps “scavengers” would be more accurate.

      They do not need to learn and observe aspects of a bird’s life history to find it – they just follow the directions and lift their optics at the appointed time and place. They have no need to bother with learning botany, entomology, ichthyology, geology, or other disciplines that help one understand bird species’ life history (and how/where to find them).

      Those of us who built our state bird lists over decades of hard “analog” field work are clearly different from so many of today’s birders with Smart Phones, Apps, digital playback, and little or no fieldcraft. They seem to reach certain listing thresholds in much less time than it used to take. But I have to wonder why they enjoy it – why not take up geocaching or scavenger hunts and use inanimate objects as the goal of their competition?

      Their idea of Fieldcraft is getting upwind of a hidden bird so it can hear the playback better, and be goaded into showing itself…

      — One other point: Chris mentioned eBird’s “top 100 feature” as a stroke of genius to generate more checklists. It is, but there is a flip side to that coin. I also view it as stoking a LOT of stringing. Which degrades the eBird data…

      Dias, Charleston (echoing the well-known tagline of “McCreedy, Tucson”)

      • Paris Saizan

        Spoon-fed or starved in a dank root cellar is immaterial. It is linked to our motive for birding. And as long as I have enjoyed it (since 1980) I see the same reaction in the new birder, regardless of how many electronic devices they travel with. It is, after all, nature that excites us birders. Anything less makes our quest questionable.

    • JJ

      while I don’t really think the attack on the author is justified (it seems to me he was just using the argument he thought would be most effective for the target audience), the first paragraph is spot on. This competitive listing obsession is definitely making me re-think whether I should renew my ABA membership…

    • http://profile.typepad.com/6p017d41510701970c Greg Levandoski

      This conversation should be revisited frequently and I applaud the ABA for hosting it. We need put the well-being of the birds we love in front of personal pleasure. Limited playback in un-birded areas may not always be harmful (but how do you know?), but it should be avoided completely in areas that are regularly birded. Most bird populations are declining, many precipitously, and if we want to be conservationists as well as birders, we’d be wise to put birds in front of bird-lists. Migration, reproduction and wintering seasons can all be stressful times in a bird’s life; we should not add to that.

      So next time you’re out birding, consider putting in the extra effort to find your target without playback. You may just discover that observing as an unintrusive spectator increases your enjoyment of birds and allows you to witness many aspects of their behavior besides playback-induced agitation.

      Greg Levandoski

      Full disclosure: I have occasionally used call playback, but I appreciate reading well thought-out articles like this that remind me it has deleterious effects.

    • http://thebirdist.blogspot.com Nick Lund

      To the hundreds of thousands of Americans who want to enjoy birding but can’t dedicate as much time to it as you’d like: Don’t give up. It’s OK to have other passions. It’s OK to have a family and a job in the city that forces you to sit in an office all day instead of being out searching for rarities. It’s OK to enjoy birding for the chase and for the thrill and for the exploration and not for the science. It’s OK to go birding even if you only have an hour between meetings or before you have to pick up kids from practice. It’s OK to use all the technology you can get your hands on to learn more about where birds are and what they look and sound like, so long as you use that technology according to ABA guidelines.

      We can’t all be the birders we’d like to be, or the ones that some people think we should be, but if we can tune out those who think less of us we can all enjoy birding now matter what the reason we love it.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      “It’s OK to use all the technology you can get your hands on to learn more about where birds are and what they look and sound like, so long as you use that technology according to ABA guidelines.”

      Exactly! Hear, hear, Nick! What an excellent response (the whole thing)! I will never understand why some birders would demean others, as long as we’re all adhering to the ethics guidelines. As long as the other birder is adhering to those guidelines, why should you care how they bird or why they bird? That’s their business, not yours.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      “So next time you’re out birding, consider putting in the extra effort to find your target without playback.”

      I agree with the sentiment because it’s how I tend to bird. However, there are many scenarios in which that extra effort could easily be considered more intrusive than judicious and limited playback. The best examples involve secretive birds, such as rails and other marsh birds. Using a little playback to elicit a response from secretive marsh birds seems more ethical to me than trampling through said marsh, flushing your target bird and others and possibly damaging habitat. The same goes for any birding in sensitive habitat, where it’s extremely important to stay on the trail. Because if you ban playback, you know birders will go off-trail if their target is uncooperative. I’d rather have limited playback allowed in such a situation.

      So like I said above, I agree with your sentiment, but please consider the possible effects of that “extra effort” as well.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      “But I have to wonder why they enjoy it – why not take up geocaching or scavenger hunts and use inanimate objects as the goal of their competition?”

      Because they find birding and listing fun! Simple as that; there doesn’t need to be any other reason. Just because you wouldn’t enjoy their approach to birding doesn’t mean you need to demean it. “Analog” birders are not superior to “digital” birders (or your “scavengers”), they are just different.

    • http://Birdchick.com Shaz

      I think we should be careful when we start poo pooing how other people learn bird id. It makes one sound like a old guy shaking his fist at a bunch of young whipper snappers.

      But then again, I’m one of those internet using “bottom feeders.” I love digiscope as many birds as I can, but I really could care less whether I found a rarity…

      • Paris Saizan

        I would tend to disagree… significantly. As exciting as birding is and as potentially life-changing our role in that regard may be, I don’t think we need to make exceptions for those who use their digital recordings for any other reason than to reacquaint themselves with the bird call in question. And ear buds work swimmingly. Yes, we want the whole world to engage in the lovely joy that is the art of birding – but never at the expense of the bird. Every time I see that expression in a new birder’s eyes and face when they finally “see” the bird, it’s always the same. And it lights a fire of appreciation and, indeed, an almost irresistible desire to protect the birds. Let’s dispense with crutches and get out there and seek our joy in nature – always trying to preserve, protect and share.

    • http://www.BirdingIsFun.com Robert

      Amen to that Nick! I’m growing weary of those birders purporting their esoteric, elitist, and morally superior way of birding. I’m tired of them trying to make everyone else feel guilty about our individual methods of enjoying birds. If we followed their line of logic to conclusion, we should all end our lives because humanity harms birds. I disagree with that line of thought completely. Too many arrogantly over estimate the human impact on birds by birders and photographers. I’m not condoning principle-less birding. The ABA Code of Ethics and our own best interpretation of them is a pretty darn good standard. I enjoy birds and the conservation efforts I participate in for fun. I resolutely declare that I will not fall victim to the growing trend of self-flogging guilt-ridden birders.

    • Brooke

      There have been some righteous discussions lately about the rise of “birders” who snap a quick photo and wait until they’re home at the end of the day to begin the ID process. It’s a lazy form of “birding,” and I’ve seen “birders” who use this “technique” and who are hard pressed to identify a robin or a mockingbird as a result.

      Similarly, I know “birders” who have used playback in lieu of developing actual field skills. Why bother to learn the song or the call or the field marks or the habitat for a bird when all you need is a GPS and an iPod?

      I’ve birded with people before who relied so extensively on playback that they can’t have gotten more than a fraction of the species that were in the area because they were so focused on taping in one bird at a time.

      I’ve only taped in a bird once while birding by myself. I was at Camanche Reservoir in the Sierra a few months ago, and I needed Rock Wren for Amador. I played the CD and a bird came bombing out of nowhere and violently attacked the car. Even though it’s not a rare bird and it’s not an over-birded area, I still felt bad for that one bird.

      The Endangered Species Act of 1973 defines “take” to mean “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

      Under this definition, playback would seem to fit the criteria for “harass.” If it’s not okay to harass a Kirtland’s Warbler because it could impair the survival of the species, what makes it okay to harass a Yellow Warbler and potentially impair the survival of that one bird?

      For me, it’s a stupid tick on a stupid county list, but for the bird, that’s its life right there.

      • Paris Saizan

        If one method or another serves the birder AND as long as the bird is undisturbed, so be it. The fact is, some folks are more cranial and prefer to peruse their efforts digitally. There are others, and I am one, who prefer the overwhelming natural feeling of being there. Purists exist in everything and to me, this can be code for the unbalanced. I am sure there are some who prefer boxer underwear in solid colors only while others couldn’t care less. We need to breathe, appreciate and preserve the birds and their homes, wherever they may be. The rest is static.

    • Chris McCreedy

      Thank you to everyone for taking the time to add your excellent comments.

      Regarding some of the comments on the blog, I can riff with the best of them on the absurdity of listing. But, as I wrote, listing is fun, and I as well as a great many enjoy trying to find as many species as we can. Absurd or not, there is no mistaking the thrill/heightened perception I feel when I am actively trying to find species. It gets me deeply involved with the ecology of a place, and I notice and learn many more things than I might have otherwise.

      For Nicholas –I am with you in regards to your sentiment, ‘to each his own’. To clarify, I am suggesting that if we are keeping track of the number of birds we see (ticking) – either because we want to find as many as we can or to find more than others – a change of the rules to disavow playbacks might make the endeavor a bit more interesting given the technological advantages we have at hand. One might think of this as craft, or simply as a nod to learning the birds we seek and immersing ourselves in their ecology.

      As an analogy, equipment advancements in other types of contests (golf, skiing, tennis, hockey, etc.) have at times become extreme enough that the organizations that govern those endeavors decided to set limits in order to maintain the sport of the contest itself.

      Once the rules are out there, they do have effect. I’d love to count a fresh road killed saw-whet I found a few weeks ago. I certainly earned it, I found it in the middle of a six-mile walk. No one would stop me if I counted it, and I have no idea how I will find another (if you only knew how many cedars and spruces I have peered into, trying). But one rule is that the bird needs to be alive. I stick with the rules because I am curious to see if I can find more Washtenaw County birds than others who followed the rules. Counted or not counted, the rules did nothing to diminish my wonder at finding the owl. It was one of the most memorable things I have encountered while birding. The rules were there for the others that in turn might want to find more species than I.

      For me, there is nothing esoteric about spending hours upon hours looking for a bird I can’t find without playback, nothing elitist about dipping on a bird that I might have found if I pressed Play. I am advocating for recreational birders to put in extra time to learn and find species, rather than to steer species around with machines when the birds not doing what we wish.

      With increasing regularity, I find myself encountering birders willing to press Play if their species hasn’t turned up on time. As I wrote, I believe that playback can be used extremely effectively for education and outreach. However, I have never happened upon a birder using playbacks to learn more about birds, only birders using playbacks to find the most species. My fear is that by doing so, we are dipping on something else.

    • Anon

      To Robert, I wouldn’t dismiss those that disagree with you as arrogant. There are two sides here. Your focus may be on fun, but others may focus on the well being of birds. You dismiss those folks as being arrogant, but they just focus their values differently. You say you’re growing weary of these arrogant birders, but they may likewise be growing weary of birders who are more concerned about fun and games, and oblivious to their impacts on birds.

    • Luisa

      Nate, Greg and Brooke have said it better than I could. Great post, Chris.

      From Chris’s comment, above: “I have never happened upon a birder using playbacks to learn more about birds, only birders using playbacks to find the most species. My fear is that by doing so, we are dipping on something else.” I couldn’t agree more.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      Hi, Chris. Well said! I better understand your take on this now (I hope!). If the ABA rules were to change to say no playback for listing purposes, I honestly would have no real problem with that (I’m used to it b/c the Great Texas Birding Classic has that in their rules)! I guess my main point was that we all just need to follow the same rules in this sport and not be upset when other people bird differently than us while remaining within the rules. Don’t hate the player, hate the rules. ;-) It felt like some of this discussion was leaning toward the former, and that’s mostly what I took issue with.

      I really like your sports equipment analogy and think it is quite relevant. However, I would like to point out that playback has always been available to birders, it just hasn’t been quite so easy. Should the rules ban all playback, or should we say that only cassette players are allowed? :-) (That was very much meant to be tongue-in-cheek with a smile, not cranky.)

      As I said, I don’t think I would mind a change in rules to say no playback. But as I said to Greg above, we need to be mindful of the possible effects of banning playback. We will always have cheaters that break the listing and ethics rules. Would we rather they use too much playback to see that Black Rail, or go trampling a marsh trying to flush it or make it call? If I had only those two choices, I think I would choose the former. Perhaps a rule change could list specific species for which judicious and limited playback is allowed?

      Thanks again for your response!

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      But perhaps those birders don’t really care that they’re “dipping on something else.” I don’t think it’s our place to tell them they should bird differently to “really enjoy” the birds. I think a possible analogy is sport fishermen and hunters. Some people pay thousands of dollars to be led to a spot where they can catch a big fish or shoot the big buck, and they have zero fieldcraft or ability to do such a thing on their own. But that’s just how they choose to enjoy the activity; they’re more interested in the end result…for birders, the tick. But if it brings them joy, then good for them! At least they’re finding joy outdoors. :-) As long as they’re following the listing rules in their approach to birding, we can always just ignore them if we don’t like that approach.

    • Morgan Churchill

      As a “bottom feeder” who is also a avid herper, mammalwatcher, and probably knows more about bird taxonomy than the average birder, I find this post insulting. Yes, I like twitching other people’s birds (or did…twitching is pretty much impossible in Wyoming). But I am also a PhD student working on a non-bird related degree, and might have only a couple of hours a week to get some birding in. Great that you have spent a lot of time building your state list, but please don’t tell me that my fun is bad-wrong, or tell me that I don’t care about and enjoy the birds I do see.

    • Brooke

      (To correct my own post, I was in Calaveras when I got the Rock Wren. I don’t even know what county it happened in. That’s how much it meant to me. :P )

    • http://profile.typepad.com/offshorebirder Nate Dias

      I think people are misconstruing what I said. I fully endorse people using technology to LEARN as much as they can about birds – particularly how to conserve them.

      But the key word is “learn”.

      What I was criticizing in my post is people who use technology to AVOID (the time-consuming task of) learning about birds, fieldcraft, ecology, etc. and to get their ticks as quickly and easily as possible.

    • Luann

      Perhaps Brooke could introduce us to a “birder” that she has met that can’t tell a mockingbird from a robin. When I meet this person, I may learn that they have a visual impairment and use the camera to augment their vision. Maybe they don’t use bino’s because of a disease process. Maybe they are lazy because they are a single dad with a toddler at home. Maybe, alot of things, but in the end….what harm can there be in them birding in a way that is pleasurable to them and not harmful to the birds? To the best of my knowledge no bird has been harmed by simply being the object of a photograph. And, to stave of the screaming—I know they sell cameras to stupid disrespectful people, just like they let intolerant people post on the internet.

      Of course, I am one of those people (GASP) that likes to use what tools I have available to improve my ID’s.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      I don’t think I was miscontruing what you said. You called some birders “bottom feeders” or “scavengers,” and you just stated that you were criticizing them. That’s simply demeaning toward them, and I don’t think there’s any place for that attitude in a cohesive birding community. As long as they’re following the ethical guidelines and rules of the ABA, why is there a need to criticize them? I don’t believe it’s our business how others find joy in birding. Who cares if they just want to build a lifelist as fast as possible without really learning about the birds themselves? I certainly can’t identify with that approach, but I can respect that some people just do things differently. If you and others don’t like their approach, then advocate for a rules change (as Chris mentions above), don’t criticize the birders.

      I’m sorry if that comes off as harsh, but you’re coming off as arrogant and superior (whether you mean to or not). I think that kind of attitude can only harm the birding/ABA community as a whole. Open minds and big tents work better, IMO.

    • Leda Beth Gray

      Not our place? I think it is good to have a discussion like this– and important for people to educate each other. If activities that might hurt birds bring “joy” to people, perhaps it wouldn’t if they understood more about what the consequences might be. I’ve used playback only to find owls for the CBC, birdathon and GBBC– but am questioning that now. I’ve been on field trips where other used it to attract warblers during migration and I don’t like it. .

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      Hi, Leda! Educate away! Yes, some birders might change their approach when provided a different perspective, and that would be awesome. But I believe that many will not because they will still want to increase their lifelist as fast and as easily as possible while adhering to the current ethical guidelines. I’m not saying it’s not our place to educate; I’m saying it’s not our place to criticize those birders that might continue using judicious and limited playback even after being told about the possible effects. Why not? Because they’re following the current ethical guidelines.

      Also, I wholeheartedly agree that discussions about this are good (as long as we remember where to direct frustrations – the rules, not the rule-followers)! :-)

    • E.G.

      Frankly, this whole discussion misses the point. I’m just happy that more people are getting out and interacting with nature. If eBird encourages that, then great.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/offshorebirder Nate Dias

      So apparently Nicholas Block is completely OK with “birding” turning into a bunch of people who know/care nothing about birds, ecology, or conservation – but rather follow their “smart” phone from twitch to twitch having only negative effects on the environment (instead of playing golf, drag racing, or whatever their previous main hobby was).

      I shudder to think of our pastime devolving so…

      If that comes off as “superior” – so be it.

      By the way – I see MUCH more slob birding / ABA code of ethics violations from the out-of-touch bottom feeders than from the rest of the birding community. Their “too busy to learn” attitude and the sense of entitlement that leads to ABA code of ethics violations are inextricably linked. Desperate-for-a-twitch bottom feeders have made a nuisance of themselves at my family’s property recently, and as a result no more rarities will be mentioned publicly (including eBird) from there. This is a shame, because multiple 1st state records have come from there.

      Things like the higher rate of ethics violations are one facet of my outlook regarding the disconnected bottom feeders.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      “So apparently Nicholas Block is completely OK with “birding” turning into a bunch of people who know/care nothing about birds, ecology, or conservation”

      Nate, I don’t appreciate it when other people put words in my mouth or assume they know what I am or am not “OK with.” Perhaps you could point out where I said I had this viewpoint you’re ascribing to me? Your implication that all “bottom feeders” care nothing about birds is also extremely insulting and painting with a gigantic brush.

      At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the point I am trying to make in this discussion about playback use is that as long as a birder is following the ABA’s ethical guidelines, we have no right to demand they bird in a different way. If a birder is blatantly not following the ethics guidelines in their playback use, then, by all means, educate them about the guidelines! And if they do it again, then feel free to criticize them! Until then, let the “bottom feeders” continue “scavenging” because their method of birding is well within the rules of “our” pastime (which is their pastime, too). And if you have a problem with those rules, I encourage you to bring it up with the ABA. Your denigrating the birders themselves, when they’re doing nothing wrong according to the ABA, will do nothing but cause unnecessary rifts in the community, IMO.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/naswick Nate Swick

      With all due respect, I don’t find this to be the case *at all*. There are just as many, if not more, ethical violations among the “old guard” as among the birders derided as “scavengers”. Witness the recent NC Lapwing incident, for example. Or the video going around from Wisconsin showing experienced photographers baiting owls *on* a road. There’s absolutely nothing about new birders that implies they are more likely to violate birding ethics than there is that says experienced birders won’t. That’s a myth that needs to die.

      I think the attitude that this new techy paradigm is somehow bad for birding is misplaced. The proliferation of electronic communication and smartphones is a good thing in my opinion. I remember a time when you had to be in a small circle of “experienced” birders to even *know* about rare birds. It promoted elitism and exceptionalism. All the things we as a community have had to fight against.

      Now, thanks to listservs and eBird, the whole concept of looking for and finding rare birds has been democratized. Sure, this poses a few problems, but I think we forget how new this technology is. In many cases we’re still figuring out how to use it. Which, in my opinion, makes discussions like this one vital to finding a way forward.

      In any case, I’ve found that it’s impossible for new birders to find their way into this community without having some interest in birds, ecology, and conservation. Heck, even if only a percentage do, those are still *new* allies in those fights. And we need all the help we can get.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/offshorebirder Nate Dias

      In my clarifying comments, I defined the bottom feeders I was criticizing as:
      “people who use technology to AVOID (the time-consuming task of) learning about birds, fieldcraft, ecology, etc. and to get their ticks as quickly and easily as possible. ”

      I was NOT criticizing all new birders, or all birders who chase rarities.

      Nicholas asked for a citation; here it is.

      He said:
      “Who cares if they just want to build a lifelist as fast as possible without really learning about the birds themselves?”

      — That scenario covers the subset of “a bunch of people who know/care nothing about birds, ecology, or conservation”.

      So I did not put words in anyone’s mouth – I just cited a scenario that fell under someone’s “who cares” statement.

    • JJ

      I think you’re missing the point again. There are multiple people here who seem intent on assuming that the argument is about the technology itself. That’s not the case, and (the other) Nate has clarified that several times. Using the technology in productive ways is fantastic, empowering, democratizing, etc. But when used as a substitute for field knowledge, common sense, etc, it can easily become a tool for badly-behaved people to do more ‘damage’. This has nothing to do with “new birders” vs. “old guard” (as you imply above).

      I’m also not sure why you think experienced photographers baiting owls on a road would be counter-example to what Nate Dias is criticizing. It seems to me that bird photographers are often the prime example of this type of mindset. With the caveat that there are many that are good and responsible, bird photographers are quite often *more* likely than the average birder to want to use playback / technology to get a bird to show itself (and show well) so they can get a killer shot and move on to the next bird. That’s the mindset that’s being criticized, and it results in people doing dumb things like baiting owls on a road. And this type of bad behavior is not confined to either new birders or ‘experienced’ birders.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      Hi again, Nate. Yes, my statement covered a subset of birders, not “birding” as a whole, which is what you claimed was my position. It’s hard for me to explicitly say I wouldn’t be okay with birding as a whole turning into that subset b/c it’s not even a realistic outcome, IMO. There will always be birders like you and me as a part of the pie to balance out the digital twitchers (not that I don’t do my share of twitching based on others’ reports, too).

      Who said you were criticizing all new birders or all who twitch? I never got the impression you were doing that at all.

      Okay, here’s my million-dollar question that I’m having a hard time understanding the possible answer to:
      Why do you feel the need to criticize other birders that are acting well within the ABA’s rules? IMO, it’s insulting, elitist, and unproductive.

      (FWIW, I’m not sure this forum is exactly conducive to this debate. I’m happy to correspond with you further backchannel.)

    • http://www.sibleyguides.com David Sibley

      As most readers here probably know I wrote about playback in 2011 http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/04/the-proper-use-of-playback-in-birding/ and I still think that limited use of playback is OK. In this post and discussion so far I see less concern for the “welfare of the bird” and a lot of concern for “fairness in competition”. Which is fine, but let’s be clear about what we’re debating.

      Regarding technology promoting laziness, here’s a bit that I wrote on my blog in 2011 http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/10/does-technology-make-birders-lazy/ after commenters here http://blog.aba.org/2011/10/digital-bird-song-identification-a-reality.html suggested that a bird song ID app was a bad idea because it would make birders lazy.

      For that post I looked up some research on calculator use by young math students, which has been the subject of similar debate among math teachers, and wrote:

      “It’s worth noting that there is no evidence that calculator use does any harm to math learning. Some of the arguments in favor of calculator use can be applied directly to this bird song app debate. For example: Calculators allow students to spend less time on tedious calculations, so those who would normally be turned off by frustration or boredom can still learn the overarching concepts of math.

      “If an app can help relieve some of the initial frustration that beginners experience when they try to identify a sound in the forest, [or if playback can reveal a bird that would otherwise stay out of sight,] that might be the difference between a good experience and a bad one. Someone who feels like they succeeded in identifying a bird will be more likely to try to identify more.”

      There is nothing about birding that directly benefits birds. We disturb them every time we step outside. The benefits come indirectly from increased awareness and caring, and I think playback (used properly) actually helps promote that.

    • http://www.xenospiza.com Michael Retter

      “There is nothing about birding that directly benefits birds. We disturb them every time we step outside. The benefits come indirectly from increased awareness and caring, and I think playback (used properly) actually helps promote that.”

      Hear, hear!

    • Aspen Ellis

      Young birder here. I do use playback, but do so infrequently. Typically the only times that I use it is in a group CBC/Big Day-type scenario. While I admit that this can be partially attributed to the fact that I haven’t bothered to buy a portable speaker, I also typically feel a twinge of guilt when I do use playback. It bothers me a little bit to fake out the birds that I’m watching, and it also draws them away from what they were doing, which is (most of the time) what I’m most interested in seeing.

      This is my personal choice, though, and if I see other birders using playback I’m not particularly bothered, as long as it is used courteously and intelligently (in a perfect world, everyone birding within earshot of the playback would be informed and have said that they were okay with it). I feel that this is probably one of the most important things to note when using playback aside from the welfare of the birds due to the controversy surrounding it.

      Note, though, that I’m not much of a twitcher, so I don’t see things from a lister’s point of view. I could certainly understand frustration when playback had been used to draw in a bird that one had spent an hour looking for. However, I would suppose that that frustration would have to be expected, and perhaps accepted, were you to adopt a totally playback-less birding style. I don’t think that playback is going to stop, and as long as it’s used responsibly I feel that it should be a personal choice. As others have said, as long as folks are getting into the sport and enjoying themselves, we can’t want for too much more.

      I don’t know, just my thought. Really enjoyed the post, Chris, and reading the discussion!

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      As always when it comes to playback (well, and pretty much anything birding-related), you are spot on, David. Thank you very much for your post. Your last paragraph is part of the point I’ve been trying to make. Everything we do when birding can be construed as having negative effects on birds; we should strive to pick and choose wisely what approach we take on a case-by-case basis.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      Another amazingly eloquent young birder! Well said, Aspen!

      “I don’t think that playback is going to stop, and as long as it’s used responsibly I feel that it should be a personal choice. As others have said, as long as folks are getting into the sport and enjoying themselves, we can’t want for too much more.”

      Exactly.

    • Steve Howell

      Warning: This response may be detrimental to your sanity

      Consider the following scenarios:

      1. You are walking through the woods with a non-birding friend and hear a Blackburnian Warbler singing. You pull out your iPhone, hand the friend you binoculars and say watch this: you playback the song, the male Blackburnian flies in and shows off. Wow! Your friend becomes a birder on the spot, then a politician, and then US president; they pass amazing environmental laws, we all benefit – and all because of one playback.

      2. You are walking through the woods with a non-birding friend and hear a Blackburnian Warbler singing. You pull out your iPhone, hand the friend you binoculars and say watch this: you playback the song, the male Blackburnian flies in and shows off. Wow! A Sharp-shinned Hawk flies in and picks off the warbler, the one individual Blackburnian that carried a gene mutation that in 10 years would have helped the species survive a disease that wipes out the entire species. Now, no more Blackburnian Warblers, ever, – and all because of one playback.

      Absurd you say, but who knows. Our actions have consequences but we have no answers. Individual birds, like individual people, can make a difference (as discussed by Jeff Gordon in the July 2011 issue of Birding magazine).

      I use bird sound playback as part of my repertoire as a professional bird tour guide. I like to think I use it less than most other guides, because I lead tours to areas I know really well, areas that get little or no other birder traffic over the course of a year. I do not use playback when I bird on my own or with friends – there are plenty of birds to look at, or listen to, without recourse to playback.

      BUT, *does the individual bird care about this rationalization?* I doubt it. Individual birds are likely to be just as upset by playback whether they are House Sparrows or Black Rails, Eurasian Collared Doves or Gurneys Pittas, whether it is done for your list, or for science, or for any other reason.

      With universal access to bird sounds and to technology, playback in the field has increased exponentially, as McCreedy highlights (and has been my experience when out birding). Thus, the consequent disturbance to individual birds has increased exponentially.

      But humans are the rationalizing animal, and we are really good at it. I have even heard some people quip that our species has evolved from Homo sapiens to Homo entitlementus. Let’s look at the ABA Code of Ethics, which I believe starts with something like:

      ‘In any conflict of interest between birds and birders, the welfare of the birds and their environment comes first.’

      Would it not be more accurate, and honest, to say:

      ‘In any conflict of interest between birds and birders, the welfare of the birds and their environment comes first – unless the birder needs to see or photograph the bird.’

      Let’s face it, pishing, playback, tramping in marshes to flush birds (one respondent said playback is better than habitat disturbance; maybe, but why do we ‘need’ to do either?), even driving and burning fossil fuels, these all surely put the birder before the bird and its environment? David Sibley makes the same point in his post. The issue isn’t that we disturb birds, the issue is how much, how we view it, and how we deal with it – do we embrace hypocrisy or deny that we are in denial?

      Some commentators have pointed out that some problems have to do with the ABA rules rather than the birders. Could the ABA make a difference by changing the listing rules. I once heard it suggested by somebody that the ABA might make a small change to their listing rules:

      ‘For birds seen with the use of playback you get only half a point.’ Wow, now there’s a thought for the purists. So, if you’ve seen 600 species but 300 with playback your official list would be 450, but if you’ve seen 500 species and only 30 with playback your list would be 485. Hmm… But then, you know, you’d have to drive a lot more to keep trying for those birds, and burn more fossil fuel. And do birders as a subset of society use more non-renewable resources than baseball fans, than fishermen, than mountain-bikers, than cat owners? Let’s keep this in perspective. Yet perspective is an individual thing, and so are ethics.

      Those who know me will realize much of the foregoing is tongue-in-cheek, but how much and which parts? As birders we all enjoy birding in different ways, but it’s good to stop and think sometimes. I thank McCreedy for raising the issue of playback, and perhaps making some of us think about how we bird, and what impacts we might have, on individual birds, on each other, on the environment.

    • Linda Stehlik

      There should be more rules about when playback is appropriate or banned…..
      I’ve been a birder 56 years, back to low tech days. I get a thrill from birds, their behavior singing, eating, flying. My joy is just as intense when I see how a titmouse hammers on a seed as when I am taken to a spot for a just-split antwren in Brazil. I record bird sounds, but really don’t like playback. It alters normal behavior and they sing differently in response to an intruder. Yet tour leaders’ playbacks bring out new species.

      Birds can become resistant to playback. Near Manu Peru, I went on tour to bamboo areas and the only birds we saw were called out by recordings, and many did not respond. And our leader said, these birds have been taped out, it would be good to keep this site out of bounds a couple of years. Many tour groups must hit that particular bamboo grove each year. My favorite thing would be to spend a few days alone in the bamboo, to witness what’s going on in there. No recordings. As, when I was walking by myself and saw a pair of Moustached Wrens peeling bamboo leaves for nesting material, grasping them and seemingly falling to strip them off.

      I went to NE Brazil to see the habitat and partly to get my ticks above a certain round number to get over this list thing, and it worked. My life ABA and world lists are decent, now I will just watch what comes by.

    • Matthew from DE

      Right on Tim.

    • Javier Oliveras

      The word “tour guide” is not used correctly. Many leaders, calling themselves tour guides, use playbacks when they lead groups in other countries, most of the times because they don´t do birding in the place every single day and they depend on the playback to find birds, not in their ability and instincts.

    • http://www.xenospiza.com Michael Retter

      As one of those “tour guides”, I can tell you, Javier, that you’re overgeneralizing at best and way off base at worst.

    • Tim in Albion

      Then ABA is not the organization for me. I am on the board of our local Audubon chapter, which really is about the birds and their environment, not the birders. It’s too bad, I really enjoy birding and wish there was an organization that was actually about that activity, rather than this absurd obsession with lists.

      All of the argumentation here – with the exception of David Sibley’s excellent insights – revolves around this core activity of “ticking” or “listing” or whatever you call it. The plain fact is that in sports, people always play games with the rules, seeking ways to increase their competitive edge without either directly violating a rule or getting caught doing so. Every other noble-minded sport has fallen into this pattern. It was a mistake for ABA to go down this path.

    • Tim in Albion

      “To the hundreds of thousands of Americans who want to enjoy birding…” I’d like to say, please don’t get lured into this bogus competitive aspect. Keep lists if you want, follow rarities, all the rest of it – just don’t fall into the trap of measuring yourself by your listing prowess. That way lies madness.

    • Tim in Albion

      David Sibley still has by far the best discussion of playback and the clearest-eyed approach to this whole subject. Thanks for all of that, David.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/nicholasblock Nicholas Block

      I didn’t say that the ABA is only about listing, I just said its origins are linked to listing, so it’s unlikely that they would turn around and say that listing is bad. It is absolutely not only about listing; it has evolved and expanded greatly since its origin. I’m not sure what your definition of birding is, but to suggest that the American Birding Association is not “actually about that activity” strikes me as a bit disingenuous. A list of things that the ABA does to promote the birding activity, off the top of my head:

      • Publications like Birding and Winging It, which teach about identification & distribution, have great birding book reviews, keep birders abreast of recent ornithological findings, share great birding adventure stories, etc. etc.
      • Birder’s Exchange, which gets binoculars into the hands of less fortunate birders internationally so that they may enjoy birds as well
      • Conventions that bring birders together to share their love for birding with each other
      • Young birder events to help spark the love for birding in new generations
      • And yes, ABA provides listing reports for those birders that enjoy listing and seeing where they rank compared to other birders

      Part of what makes me proud to be an ABA member is that they have worked hard to adopt a “big tent” when it comes to birding, welcoming anyone and everyone that enjoys birding, birdwatching, or whatever you want to call your interest in birds. I think you’d be missing out by focusing only on the one aspect of the organization you don’t like, but that’s just my opinion. In fact, I would encourage you to stay and write your own guest blog post about your view of listing and birding! I believe that many, many ABA members would share your views! I do not represent the ABA at all in saying this, but I bet they’d be happy to publish your voice. Again, that’s part of what makes me proud to be a member – we all have a voice.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0162fbed8b53970d Ned Brinkley

      This is all jolly good; all of the elements of the debate are familiar from decades past, but what has changed is the saturation of the birding environment (or at least frequently birded areas) with playback. That, inarguably, is new, as is the technological environment that permits nearly instantaneous distribution of bird-finding information. This is my fortieth year birding, and I am flabbergasted by the changes in what we still call “birding”. I remember birding one spot, about 8-9 years ago, with a group, slowly stalking a shy and very scarce species that was singing close by. One person in the group pulled up the bird’s song on his (then amazing) smart-ish device – and the bird shut up and flew off. That was it. We spent another four hours over two more visits, without luck. So I would like to offer the reminder that playback isn’t a panacea; sometimes it doesn’t work.

      My reading of Chris McCreedy’s original essay was quite simple – I think he’s simply admitting that something feels graceless and cheap about pushing a button in order to push a bird’s button. He’s not on the offensive. He’s just saying that something about it doesn’t feel to him as sweet as encountering the bird without the mediation of a device. Perhaps there are those among us who feel otherwise – that the device-mediated/enabled encounter is superior. I haven’t really met many people who feel that way. Most birders I know are more spellbound by the encounter that occurs with patience, or serendipity, or even sweat and hard work. And almost everyone I know seems to revel in intimacy with a species that includes an understanding of its place in the world. There are surely those who are not open to those dimensions, but they are hardly the majority in the birding world. Few boast that they care for nothing but the numeral that a bird encounter comes to mark. So I applaud Chris for his candor and for saying what so many of us have felt – that playback has an unsatisfying feel to it, quite often. Steve Howell notes that he doesn’t use playback when birding with friends; I don’t either, but I do audio-record birds more and more, as their vocalizations – which I used to think I knew well – are unbelievably varied, even in familiar species. There is so much to be learned, and I take a lot of pleasure in both the recording and in analyzing the recordings on the computer. I don’t characterize this as evolution on my part, nor am I interested in a jihad against playback. But I think Chris is onto something important that has little to do with ethics and much to do with the simple enjoyment of our pastime on a personal, even private level. Good stuff.

    • Sam

      One attempt to alleviate the overuse/misuse of playback could be the ABA eliminating their ‘no heard birds’ icon in their listing publications. I’m not insinuating everyone sporting said icon is a playback junkie, however, I do wonder what effect their elitist status (especially in the ABA area top ranks) has on other impressionable birders.

      Interestingly, the appearance of the ‘no heard birds’ status coincided with the revolution of those amazing smart-thing devices.

    • http://www.xenospiza.com Michael Retter

      I think that’s an astute observation and very good idea, Sam. Just imagine how much more tape-playing and bird-stressing would be going on if heard birds were not countable at all, as used to be the case. There’s not a “no seen birds” icon. I realize this is certainly not the case, but it does make it appear as if seeing a bird is “worth more” than hearing one. That’s not a message we want to be sending to our vision-impaired members, in my opinion.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/jeffgyr Jeff Gordon

      Hi Sam,

      You make an interesting point. Many of us would favor eliminating the “no heard birds” icon, for a number of reasons, including the potential lessening of pressure to see birds that are easily identified and enjoyed by ear.

      But you do make one factual error I’d like to correct: the “no heard birds” icon is much older than the, “revolution of those amazing smart-thing devices.” My recollection is that it showed up in the Big Day and List Report shortly after the “heard birds count” ruling, many, many years ago.

      As such, I believe it was an attempt at partially preserving the status quo, not an adaptation to greater ease of sound playback.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/jeffgyr Jeff Gordon

      Hello again, Sam.

      I love it when I learn something from these discussions, which I almost always do. I hate it, though, when the way I learn is by discovering something I had held to be true is wrong, wrong, wrong.

      And so I hearby take a big bite of crow and say that you were right about the ABA history and I was wrong. I had thought the “no heard birds” designation on the list report closely followed the “heard birds count” ruling. It did not.

      “No heard birds” was introduced in the 2007 report, on page 32, which you can find here: http://listing.aba.org/downloads/ABA2006BDLR.pdf

      Kenn Kaufman penned an explanation of “Why Heard Birds Count” in the March 1994 Winging It. I believe that was not long after the official addition of heard birds, but it at least gives us a minimum span between the two events…something like 13 years. So I had that totally wrong in my head.

      And indeed, the 2007 date is close to when a lot of birders got iPods. The device debuted in 2001. I got my first in 2003, but I’ve always been a bit of an early adopter. And of course, you can use iPods for music, not just bird sounds. ;-)

      Even though I’m admitting I was totally wrong about the history, I’m going to very tentatively stand by my statement about the “no heard birds” being more about preserving (actually bringing back, it turns out) the past rather than an adaptation to a newly digitally-enabled present and future.

      I’ll ask around, but it makes a lot of sense to me that the folks pushing for the “no heard birds” icon would be largely, but by no means entirely different than those who were experimenting with the then-new gadgetry.

      Please, if anyone has anecdotes or better to counter any of what I’ve said, do chime in. And again, I apologize for having my history wrong and thank Sam for the opportunity to get it down better.

    • Gary Bloomfield

      By the time I read through all the previous commentary, most of my thoughts have been expressed in one way or another. However, I feel it merits repetition that much of this whole discussion is based on the case by case nature of “what is harassment” for any individual bird, as well as any individual birder’s assessment of of that particular situation.

      One way to look at this would be, for example, a birder showing up to chase a given rarity a “couple counties over”. This birder could really have no idea of exactly how many times playback has been used on that bird recently, and thus cannot accurately assess if they might be the “straw that poked the flycatcher’s eye”.

      There really should be a well-considered evaluation of all factors every time playback is used.

    • http://www.lauraerickson.blogspot.com Laura Erickson

      I tell two stories about the years I birded almost daily at Picnic Point, a university park near my apartment when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin. One morning in 1977, I heard my first Golden-winged Warbler. I knew the song, and needed to see the bird to add it to my lifelist. It was very close, but hiding within thick foliage, and it took me over 45 minutes to finally see it, making me miss the bus for work. I had to run 3 miles to make it on time, but it was worth it.

      During my final days in Madison, I tallied up my Picnic Point list and it was at 199. I knew there had to be screech owls there, but I’d never seen one in the almost 5 years we lived there. So I went out one March evening with my friend Frank Freese, who was considerably older than I but also more technologically savvy and actually had a cassette tape player. With that amazing bit of technology, we called in more than a dozen Eastern Screech-Owls! I was elated! But I still felt disappointment that I’d never, ever found one there on my own, when I’d seen so many nearby at an arboretum and other places. As Ned Brinkley so eloquently put it, something really did feel “graceless and cheap about pushing a button in order to push a bird’s button.” But I was ever so glad that after five years I’d finally heard these wonderful birds at my favorite birding spot.

      So there you have it. I think the comparison between birders using playback and athletes using steroids is apt, even as I myself have benefitted from playback, used by myself or someone nearby. And I’ve more than once called in an Ovenbird after going on long, long hikes with elderhostel groups, the people so badly wanting to see one after hearing them for so long. The joy on their faces made me think maybe it was worth the one bird briefly pulled from its daily life for our benefit, but I still always feel guilty and sad about it, and still treasure the times I was able to pick out an Ovenbird and get it into my scope for a large bird to enjoy without using technology to lure it in–just my own eyes and ears.

      Maybe one solution, as we continue discussing the issue, is for ABA to make a new list designation, “no playback birds.”

    • http://www.lauraerickson.blogspot.com Laura Erickson

      That is, getting an Ovenbird in my scope for a large group to enjoy. Oh, dear–so far I don’t think I’ve ever called one in to be enjoyed by a large bird.

    • Steve

      While I think it’s important to be the best we can be, and to show a good example and to treat the birds we encounter with respect, I also think some perspective is important. I did a little GIS exercise. I pretended there were 1000 birders in Georgia using playback. I randomly distributed them across the state and buffered them by 1000 ft (assuming that maybe that was a good distance for birds affected). I then calculated how much area these 1000 birders ‘impacted’. It turned out to be 0.2% of the land mass in Georgia. Now, I know birders concentrate in areas and their affects are concentrated, but this would mean that the area affected is even smaller. So….I guess what I’m saying is that this is not a conservation issue. Not that that is all that is important. I’m just saying, that to me, I’d rather birders go trap and remove cats than get on each others cases about playback. Something that probably has zero effect on bird populations.

    • Tim in Albion

      All right, I will give it some thought, and see if I can adequately express my thoughts on listing vs. birding. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Paris Saizan

      As enticing as it would be to know you have a the key to draw out the species you desire to see, the fact remains, the bird lives (and dies) based on an entirely different set of parameters. Their exposing themselves to potentially mate or form a relationship to ultimately propagate their species is an entire waste if what they are reacting and responding to is a recording. Why we watch birds is the thrill it gives us on so many levels. Why the bird responds to the recording are for far more serious reasons. If we are studying a bird and its habitat to ensure its survival and the use of such a recording is proactive and, indeed, genuinely useful for the bird, let the expert be the innocuous expert. However, humans have routinely and in broadly impacting actions, literally ruined species, their home, rangelands and very existence for far more nobler causes. I say, let it go. If you want to review the call, use ear buds. Else, honor that which we have for today.

    • Bill Pranty

      Great post, Chris.

      It would be cool if ABA would return that old 1970s California dinosaur, the “NIB” list — but with a new twist: No iPodded Birds allowed.

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    • 2014 Iowa/Illinois Young Birder Weekend December 15, 2014 9:37
      By Carl Bendorf On June 14-15, 2014, Iowa Young Birders and Illinois Young Birders hosted a joint field trip weekend along the Mississippi River.  Twenty four young birders from Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin had a great time exploring a variety of habitats. One of the highlights was spending time with special guest, Rachael Butek, 2010 ABA Young […]
    • Young Birder Blog Birding #35 December 5, 2014 7:22
      November has truly been “Novembird” for much of the ABA area, with a smattering of great birds spread across the region. The grip of winter is finally beginning to take its hold. Lucky for us, there were several nice posts written by young birders over the past month. Many of us are gearing up for […]
    • Nine Tips for Leading Bird Walks November 18, 2014 9:39
      Recently, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. More and more young birders have been leading bird walks. This is awesome and really helps enrich the young birder community, as well as the birding community as a whole. […]

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