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Birding Ethics

Best Practices for Birders


Birders regularly interact with wild animals, and the birds they observe are not pets. By practicing sound birding ethics, birders can protect the integrity of their hobby and preserve the well-being of the birds they observe.

Observation Not Interaction

Birders should keep an appropriate distance from all species they observe. Stay on marked trails and avoid entering restricted areas, no matter how tempting it may be to venture closer to a bird. Disturbing a bird’s feeding area or nesting sites can cause unhealthy stress and fear that may drive the bird away, not only out of range of the birder’s observations but permanently forcing the bird to find a safer, less disturbed habitat where it will not be able to be observed.

There are many useful birding tools that can bring birders close to the species they observe without interacting with the birds. Zoom camera lenses, binoculars and spotting scopes are useful options, and many times patience will help the bird feel more secure about the birder’s presence and it may venture closer on its own.

Hands Off

Birders should never physically touch a bird without extreme cause. While it may be necessary to move an injured bird to a safe location or to help relocate fledglings that fall from a nest, it is always best to avoid touching birds. Despite how soft or silky birds may appear, they are not pets and should not be fondled.

If it is necessary to touch or move birds in dangerous situations or birds that have sustained injuries, they should be handled as little as possible. Wear gloves to avoid any bacterial contamination and quickly put the bird in a safe, calm area where they can recuperate naturally.

Zero Residual Presence

The best birders may visit favorite bird watching sites frequently, but it is impossible to tell because they do not change the environment of the area. Avoid leaving litter along a birding trail, and do not move dead branches, brush or tree limbs in order to see birds more clearly—move your body instead to find a better observational angle.

In the backyard, birders should keep birdhouses and nesting boxes in remote areas where they will not be frequently disturbed by children or pets, yet they will still be visible for observation. Choosing native plants for bird landscaping is another way to attract birds without drastically altering the environment.

Mum’s the Word

It is natural for a birder to want to share the exciting discovery of a new nest, a rare bird species or an unknown birding site, but doing so can have devastating repercussions on the bird population. Birds are naturally shy and can easily be disturbed by a sudden increase in human presence, even if the birders are polite and practice good birding ethics.

If too many birders suddenly appear in an area, the bird could be spooked and may venture into a less secure area where it will be more vulnerable to predators. Furthermore, increased human activity can impact a local food supply, making the area less attractive for the rare visitor and forcing it to relocate. The best action to take when finding a new bird is just to enjoy its presence without shouting it to the world.

Safety First

Conscientious birders practice safe behavior not only for the birds, but also for themselves. Safety tips to protect birds include:

  • Keep birdfeeders clean and free from mold
  • Clean birdbaths regularly to provide fresh water
  • Clean birdhouses seasonally
  • Use window decals or other techniques to minimize bird collisions
  • Keep pets away from bird feeding and nesting areas
  • Teach children to respect birds and observe them safely

Safety tips for birders include:

  • Remain on marked, safe trails at all times
  • Wear appropriate attire for outdoor activities, including footwear
  • Wear sun protection gear such as sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Stay hydrated on long birding hikes
  • Inform others of your plans in case you fail to return
  • Carry a cell phone if possible
  • Do not handle injured birds or other wildlife
  • Wear visible, bright clothing if birding during hunting season
  • Wash hands thoroughly after cleaning or refilling feeders and bird baths

Mind Your Manners

Birding is one of the most popular hobbies in the world, and an ethical birder is a polite one. When visiting popular birding locations, share the best views with other birders and avoid any behavior that may disrupt birds or distract other birders. Keep conversation to a minimum, turn off cell phones and avoid using flash photography that may disturb birds or other birders’ viewing devices.

Birders who are part of birding groups should share observations with others in the group by pointing out visible species and offering tips for better viewing, such as a more visible bird or better angle. At the same time, it is impolite to be pretentious and overcorrect another birder who is enjoying the hobby in his or her own way.

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