Andrew Jobes is a Peterborough Ornithologist, yoga teacher, and Counseling Psychology student who’s been working with and enjoying birds since 1993. He administers the local Facebook birding group, Peterborough Ontario Birds.
You’ve got your binoculars, field guide, laced-up boots, and maybe camera. Time to go birding! How hard can it be?
It’s not, but there are some important things to keep in mind when you’re out, all of which boil down to consideration and respect.
Respect for Others
Be aware of private property. Avoid trespassing and be sure to ask landowners for permission before entering their property. This is a consideration even if you’re walking on a public road or path and looking at feeders on private property. The simple tip here is to avoid watching or photographing birds at feeders with windows beyond them to avoid looking into people’s homes or cottages.
If you’re doing car-based birding, be sure to pull far off the side of the road and be aware of traffic to keep yourself and others safe.
Respect for the Birds
Birding is an excellent way to get outside, learn, socialize, and enjoy amazing nature moments. But the birds aren’t there for our entertainment purposes, and it’s important to respect their well-being while enjoying them.
Birds’ lives aren’t easy. They need to find, secure, and defend territories, attract mates, build nests, lay eggs, feed young, feed themselves, avoid predators, and prepare for winter, all of which require energy. Stress uses up precious energy reserves.
Pay attention to how the birds you’re watching are behaving. If they’re agitated, scolding you, or flitting around with insects, grass, or twigs in their beak, you might be disturbing them during courtship behaviours, nest construction, or while feeding young.
Luring birds out for viewing with audio playback or “pishing” (making squeaking or kissing noises with the mouth) can allow for better looks at elusive birds but should generally be avoided, because they cause stress.
It is illegal to disturb the nests of almost all bird species in Ontario. Avoid approaching nests to get a better view. Incubating parents, eggs, and nestlings are extremely vulnerable to predators, and walking up to a nest can create a physical or scent trail to the nest that will let predators know exactly where it is. Grackles, crows, and jays are smart enough to watch you and find the nests themselves (yes, they eat eggs and nestlings, as do squirrels and chipmunks).
If you scare mom or dad off the nest when you approach it and linger, the parent may not return, which puts eggs at risk of getting too hot, or cold or nestlings not being fed.
Injured or Apparently Injured Birds
Many young cannot fly when they leave the nest in mid-to-late summer. If you find a flightless young on the ground, it’s likely fine and is best left alone, unless it’s fully exposed to the sun or potential predators. In this case, consider moving under the nearest shrub (It’s a myth that a mother will abandon her young if you touch it).
If you find an injured bird, contact the Kawartha Wildlife Centre.
Sharing Bird Locations with Others
Everyone wants to see rare or uncommon species, but the attention of dozens or hundreds of people can ultimately kill a bird. Winter is a hard time for birds; it takes energy to stay warm, which means they need steady access to readily available food. Anything that stresses birds uses up precious energy reserves and if their access to food is cut off for prolonged periods, starvation becomes a risk.
When the location of a unique bird becomes well-known, many people tend to flock to that spot in the hope of seeing and/or photographing it. If this continues for several days, the bird could be (a) stressed out and unable to hunt effectively or at all, (b) driven to a different location that is sub-optimal in terms of food and shelter, and/or (c) lured in with bait to get better viewing/photographing opportunities and then hit by a car. This is especially true of Owls in winter.
So, if you spot an overwintering bird, by all means enjoy the view, snap a couple of photos, and even tell the world on Facebook, but don’t stay too long with the bird, and don’t announce on social media where you saw it!