Birding Ethics

Using recorded bird calls in the field is a controversial topic among birders, ornithologists, and conservationists, but is it really harmful to the birds? Understanding the effects of using recordings can help each birder choose how to use or not use sounds in an ethical and responsible way. Using bird call recordings can be tempting. Playing a recording can lure or scare a bird out into the open for a better view. Many birds use songs to claim territory. Hearing a recorded song may make the bird believe its territory has been invaded by a competitor and will seek out that competitor to challenge it. When a bird responds to a recording, it is no longer foraging, caring for eggs or chicks, preening, resting, or otherwise doing the activities it needs to survive. Chasing competitors stresses a bird and unlimited recording use can dramatically impact its well-being. Some study results show that males may lose dominance in the eyes of their mate because of recordings and this will negatively impact successful breeding.

BE PATIENT: Birds have excellent hearing and can hear recorded calls from a distance. Birders should be patient when waiting for a response which may take several minutes.

Advocates of bird recordings may compare recorded songs and sounds to pishing with the idea that both disturb birds, so if you are going to do one there should be no problem doing the other. Just like with the use of recordings, opinions on pishing are divided, and some birders prefer neither method as both can stress the birds. Bird’s sensitive hearing can easily distinguish the rough tones of pishing as not being a real bird, though they may still investigate it. A recording, however, can be so very close to a real call or song that the bird may become frantic trying to find the intruder. When in doubt, pishing should also be used ethically and both pishing and recordings should be minimized.