Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resist Temptation

Gentle reminder, dear birders.

National Parks are no 'pishing' zones.
They are also no 'playback' zones.

This applies to State Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Wildlife Management Areas, areas that are birded, ANY area that has endangered species, and at any time of year that birds could be nesting. It's in the better interest of the bird to avoid undue stress, activity, etc.

While iThings and eGadgets and crazyphones might be required for surviving the urban jungle, avoid temptation. Leave the devices off, or in your car while out birding. Use headphones if you want to double check a call you've heard. Don't know what you saw? Wait, look harder, or walk away. Don't know what you heard? Look for the source; not all recordings will cover all vocalizations.


This topic came up due to recent discussions at a CBC, and it highlights the technology gap that many birders have never experienced. Birders who have never birded without the technological crutch would have a very different experience without it. I have never used playback; Matt and I never even carry equipment capable of it. We go through a mental checklist of whether or not it's worth it for the bird and situation before 'pishing' - birds may go unseen, but it's better for the bird. The welfare of the creature is of utmost importance, our sighting/documentation is not even on the radar. For CBCs, in some situations, it may be worth it 'for the count' to get a better look at a bird. Still, all of the above checks and balances apply.

Learn calls. Leave the gear at home.

Our backgrounds are in conservation; perhaps this makes us more aware, but perhaps it also shows that bird-ing does not give birds the respect that is due.

As of April 10, 2011 there is a fantastic post on David Sibley's blog,
the proper use of playback in birding with thoughtful comments and good discussion... and mention of Brown-headed Cowbirds being opportunistic re: playback.


  1. It is not a sport.
    It is not a game.

    You hand in no score card.

    This is wildlife folks.

  2. I agree! It is too easy to get caught up in the trappings of technology. I have become a much better birder by simply listening and looking. My 2 technolgy concessions are a camera and an MP3 player that I use to record the bird calls so I can ID the calls at home.

  3. The listening and the looking are important... it means you get to observe the bird in question. How often is a bird missed due to looking at a phone/gadget??

  4. I hesitate to contradict a fellow twitcher, but, yes, you can pish in National Parks. Because of the number of twitchers, however, some regulations now apply. If you want to pish, you can go to any visitor center, talk to a ranger, and apply for a "pishing license." The license allows users up to one week of pishing with limits of 10 pishes per day. There is also a small fee for the license. The parks then utilize that income to erect facilities for twitchers such as vault toilets. It's comforting to know that no matter where you are birding in our National Parks, you will always have a potty to pish in.


  5. "Back when I was a kid" (days of Ro Wauer being at BBNP, and before) there were so few “birders” (we came up with that name) and we few were more prone to use "aggressive" techniques to find the rarities and skulkers. The “sport” of birding has grown astronomically since I was a “kid”, and is now big business for many (gotta have everyone see that bird or the trip guide failed and we lose money). I support limiting the impact of thousands of birders disturbing the birds, but we must remember that our mere presence in the habitat has already disturbed them and modified their behavior. Some have previously commented that looking at birds (they can see the big magnified eye of the binocular) changes their maybe we shouldn't use binoculars. We have technology and we will use it to add a bird to our lists. Birders generate millions of dollars per annum toward preserving what they love and the majority of birders tread lightly when they are birding. I have been proud of the fact that I am a great mimic and can often call up elusive birds by imitating them. This talent has really helped me see more birds here and in the tropics. Am I stressing those birds? To some degree yes, but off I go and the bird(s) go back to their normal routine. If tens or hundreds follow and use similar means to see the same bird(s), well… While I am in the field, I will continue to use techniques both self-generated and mechanical that will enhance my birding experience. I will do so in a manner that has minimum impact on the species being pursued. Following the rules of parks is necessary and I will abide. This controversy has raged previously (the Cave Creek Canyon trogons, and others) and will continue. I hope that all us will continue to strive to have as little negative impact on birds as possible. But, we will impact birds.

  6. Shep, you bring up some interesting points - but for your last line, re: impacting birds, that's where I started. I first got into birding from a conservation angle: Attwater's Prairie Chickens don't need to be pished at, for what it's worth. I then picked up birds who were injured or killed from hitting windows. Never needed to pish at them, regardless of whether or not they were rare species. I moved on to guiding bird walks and canoe trips... and because it was an over-birded area, never pished. I transitioned to picking up dead birds and bats under wind turbines and again, found myself not pishing. So for much of my career, pishing has not been required because the bird's best interest was being considered. Wildlife rehab, again, the critters come to you.

    As far as I'm concerned, until birders have a net positive impact on bird populations, we have no business harassing the wildlife. Observation is one thing; invasion is another.

  7. But, with all respect to your views, WE (humans) are invasive. We are the most invasive. WE change and modify habitat and you and I can only try to ameliorate the damage done. Thanks.

  8. And, may WE all endeavor to continue the avocation of observing birds demonstrating natural behavior in proper habitat.

    WE most certainly are the most invasive. WE need to work on ALL of our "footprints", as birders, as wildlife advocates, and fellow species.

    That "footprint", of course, is auditory as well. All things in moderation.

    Thanks for the discourse, Shep. We all, generally, want similar things. At times, we all have to step aside momentarily and recall that focus a bit keener.

    We are on the same side after all. There are just so many more of us all things.

    Good evening. :-)