Conduct near nests

Conduct near nests

The following was recently posted on the Oriental Birding Forum. I copy it here not with any ulterior motive, or, like the author, with any objective of criticising bird photographers. Like him, I am very appreciative of the value of good photographs. However, I thought it might be of interest. I found the data on breeding success of forest birds particularly interesting.

It also reminds us that, while as humans we may feel a certain distance is acceptable and doesn't cause disturbance, this may not be the opinion of the bird, especially a breeding bird. It's not just a question of whether the bird still visits the nest with food for young, but whether it does so at the same frequency. Reduced feeding of young will impact breeding success.

"I have been following with interest the various messages, and the soul-searching among birders about what techniques, devices, etc., should or should not be permissible.

Undoubtedly, there are occasions when birds are disturbed by (e.g.) tape playback and there is always a danger that repeated use of playback by increasing number of birders on well-known forest trails could disrupt behaviour of birds in those territories that abut trails. Like most of us, I have myself used tapes to bring in birds, both for my own benefit and for the benefit of those I was attempting to show particular birds to. But I use them sparingly. Also, in the case of rare or sensitive species (e.g., Gurney's Pittas in Krabi) there is a voluntary moratorium on tape use which all the reputable bird guides observe.

I see no reason why laser pointers should not be used when birding with others, provided they are used carefully, sparingly, and are not shone on the bird itself. Judicious use of a laser pointer can be a massive aid when attempting to get someone else on to a bird. They don't always help, though. I have, on at least one occasion, inadvertently flushed a bird by use of a laser pointer. On another occasion, a Brown-throated Treecreeper that I had pointed out by shining a green laser on a large mossy trunk, just below the bird, dived down the trunk in pursuit of the bright green dot, presumably thinking it was an insect.

But surely, as has been pointed out by other correspondents, as long as we use common sense, there is no need to agonize unduly over the reasonable use of such aids?

I would argue that bird photographers (and in particular, nest-photographers) cause much more disturbance to birds than bird watchers. There are a large and increasing number of bird photographers in Thailand, and when a nest of a sought-after species is "on the go" there can be a constant stream of photographers of varying levels of expertise jostling for positions around the nest from dawn to dusk. This undoubtedly causes incubating birds to be off the nest more than they would be normally, rendering nests more susceptible to desertion or predation. Even when the chicks have hatched, bird photographers in search of that perfect shot may prevent adults from delivering food to nestlings as often as they would otherwise do.

In general, bird photographers can be a lot less preoccupied with the welfare of the bird than bird watchers: they may know a lot about lighting, F stops and depth of field, but they usually understand a whole lot less about basic bird biology.

In Thailand, and particularly in Thai national parks, bird photography has some insidious knock-on effects. Locating bird nests, and divulging news of their whereabouts to bird photographers in exchange for payment, is becoming an important (illegal and undeclared) source of income for the underpaid park staff. The very people who are paid to supposedly protect nature are inadvertently damaging it.

Much of the information I relate here has been confirmed to me by the more conscientious and skilled Thai bird photographers, who are themselves concerned about the bad behaviour of their peers. One of them has told me that he estimates that 95% of all nests that are visited by bird photographers in Thailand fail. This compares with an already high average "background" failure rate of c. 70-80% for most smaller birds in the tropics, where most nests (even ostensibly undisturbed nests) are predated (based on data collected by researchers in Khao Yai National Park).

I would never openly and directly criticize bird photographers in general, especially as I recognise that photographers perform an important service, particularly in documenting records of rarer, controversial or difficult-to-identify species, and in general recording plumage and structural features (and variability in the same) from which we all learn. But, nonetheless, it would be really good to see bird photographers engaging in a similar soul-searching to that carried out by birders here on OB as to how they should promote adherence among their number to a code of conduct aimed at minimizing disturbance."


[ Last edited by cgeoff at 26/02/2010 08:36 ]