Any hobby, including birding, is better when it is shared and following proper birding etiquette is essential to make this hobby enjoyable for everyone. Being a polite birder means more, however, than saying please or thank you. Bird watchers who follow basic etiquette guidelines can share their hobby politely and enthusiastically with everyone.
Ethics or Etiquette?
Birding ethics and birding etiquette are distinctly different. An ethical birder may be aware of wildlife conservation issues and may keep themselves and the birds safe while they are in the field, but that does not automatically mean their behavior is courteous. While birding ethics relates to how a birder practices this popular hobby, birding etiquette offers specific guidelines for how individual birders can interact with one another and other outdoor enthusiasts who share the same fields, ponds and trails.
Etiquette Tips for Birders
To be a polite birder…
- Keep Quiet: Minimize noise by turning off cell phone ringers and holding conversations in low tones. Excessive noise can not only scare off nearby birds, but it can also make it more difficult for other birders to hear bird songs that may help identify birds in the field.
- Step Aside: When birding on a trail, step slightly off the path to observe a bird so that hikers, joggers, bikers and other birders are not forced to go around you. This gives everyone the space to enjoy their hobbies in the same outdoor spaces.
- Share and Share Alike: Be willing to share field guides, scopes and other birding equipment with other birders in your group. Not everyone will have the same resources and while one birder should never expect to use another’s equipment, it is polite to offer a peek through a scope or to share a field guide reference. At the same time, come to the field prepared with your own materials so you are not dependent on the generosity of others for your observations.
- Offer a Bird’s Eye View: Keep others’ views clear by not walking in front of them to find your own vantage point. When a small bird is particularly secretive it can be difficult to find a position to see it well, and it is rude to step in front of someone else’s binoculars to get your own view. If you do have a good view of a shy bird, offer to move aside once you’ve had your look so others can see just as well.
- Be Patient: Along any birding trail, in any group and on any field trip there will be birders of all experience levels. When a bird is spotted that you are familiar with, do not assume that everyone else also knows the bird well. Be patient with new birders so they have the opportunity to see even everyday birds well, and never disparage a common bird they find just because you’ve seen it before.
- Keep Groups Small: Many organized birding field trips have limited participation numbers for good reason: the more people there are in the group, the more likely it is that the birds will be easily disturbed and difficult to see. While it is perfectly acceptable to invite guests who are interested in birding, avoid bringing individuals who are not prepared for the birding. In particular, very young children may not have the attention span or patience for an intense birding trip and their presence may be distracting to other avid birders.
- Share Rides: Carpooling on birding field trips is not only environmentally conscious but it also ensures a smaller caravan of birders that will be less likely to disturb birds in each area. Sharing rides also gives you a unique opportunity to meet other birders and share favorite birding stories, identification tips and local birding information. If you plan on driving, have the seats in your vehicle free of clutter so everyone has plenty of room.
- Stick Together: It can be tempting to stray from the group when you spot a bird off in the distance or if you want a better look at a bird when others have seen their fill. While any group of birders will naturally spread out, try not to stray too far so you do not become lost on unfamiliar trails, hold up others in the group or miss the next bird to be found.
- Pay Attention: Most birding field trips are organized by one or two guides who are familiar with the area and its birds. Paying close attention to these guides is a respectful way to acknowledge their expertise and to learn more about the birds you see. Furthermore, guides may offer tips about nearby birding locations or warnings about restricted areas or local dangers that birders should be aware of.
- Share Sightings: When you see a bird, or even just a flutter of movement or flash of color, share your observations with other birders in the group. More pairs of eyes focused on the area means more birders ready to contribute to the bird’s identification and a greater likelihood that the bird can be carefully observed. When you see a bird, offer clues to its location based on surrounding trees, brush, or other landmarks so everyone can spot it easily.
A polite birder is one who is courteous not only to the birds, but also to other birders and individuals who share the same trails and paths. Courteous behavior is contagious, and by following good birding etiquette birders can share their love of birds in a polite and enthusiastic way.