Code of ethics for birders
As a biologist and natural history guide, I often wonder, how far is too far when observing wildlife? I follow the American Birding Association’s Birding Code of Ethics, and I make sure my group is doing the same. The first rule of the code is to “promote the welfare of birds and their environment” and avoid stressing the birds in any way. This means limiting the use of recordings to call birds in and keeping other forms of disturbance to a minimum. Birds will usually make it clear once you’ve gone too far; they will reveal calls or postures that are unusual and, if the disturbance is persistent, they may abandon the area altogether.
Another line of the code states to “keep groups to a size that limits impact on the environment.” When there is a constant onslaught of people observing, photographing, or filming a bird, it is probably safe to assume that this is stressful to them. While I know most birders and photographers have good intentions in mind, I also know that to get that great look or fantastic shot of a rare bird, the line occasionally gets crossed. As a recent example, a client of mine spotted a Ruff in southern Texas and advertised the sighting on the Texas Birding Hotline. Within minutes, hundreds of birders and photographers were at the site where the Ruff was seen. Although I know birds are resourceful, an already frail, injured, or otherwise compromised bird may not tolerate such disturbance well.
Birdwatching in the United States is a growing hobby which appeals to all ages and types of people. The growing numbers of birdwatchers combined with an explosion of high-tech birding tools leads me to wonder about the growing impact we may be having. I am cognizant of the fact that I may ruffle some feathers by wondering aloud, but I want to bring awareness to the issue and to remind myself and others to follow the code by being “an exemplary ethical role model.”