Birding Ethics

Should Bird Calls Be Used In The Field?

Using recorded bird calls in the field is a controversial topic among birders, ornithologists, and conservationists, but is it really harmful to the birds? Understanding the effects of using recordings can help each birder choose how to use or not use sounds in an ethical and responsible way. Using bird call recordings can be tempting. Playing a recording can lure or scare a bird out into the open for a better view. Many birds use songs to claim territory. Hearing a recorded song may make the bird believe its territory has been invaded by a competitor and will seek out that competitor to challenge it. When a bird responds to a recording, it is no longer foraging, caring for eggs or chicks, preening, resting, or otherwise doing the activities it needs to survive. Chasing competitors stresses a bird and unlimited recording use can dramatically impact its well-being. Some study results show that males may lose dominance in the eyes of their mate because of recordings and this will negatively impact successful breeding.


LIMIT USE: If you choose to use bird recordings in the field, your use should be very limited with 2or 3 tries over a period of a few minutes. If there is no response, move on, leave the nearby birds in peace.

OBEY LOCAL RESTRICTIONS: National Wildlife Refuges prohibit use of recordings of any type. Other nature preserves may have similar restrictions. Some areas change restrictions based upon the season. If you are unsure, please ask before you use recordings.

KEEP QUIET FOR UNCOMMON BIRDS: Endangered or threatened birds, rare vagrants, or otherwise uncommon birds are already under stress from many factors. No recordings should be used near these birds.

GROUP PERMISSION: IF YOU ARE BIRDING IN A GROUP, ASK THE OTHER BIRDERS IF ANYONE MINDS THE USE OF RECORDINGS. CONSENT SHOULD BE UNANIMOUS OR RECORDINGS SHOULD BE AVOIDED. If the group does want to use recordings, only one person should play them, as different speakers may have subtly different sounds and could seem like more than one invading competitor. If you have a bird song ringtone, please turn off your phone.

PLAY CAREFULLY: If you use recordings, play them carefully and responsibly. Only play a bird’s song in a habitat where you believe the bird to be and keep the volume low so the invading bird does not seem overly aggressive or powerful.

BE PATIENT: Birds have excellent hearing and can hear recorded calls from a distance. Birders should be patient when waiting for a response which may take several minutes.