RE: Ethics of bird-watching

Subject: RE: Ethics of bird-watching
From: Lawrie Conole <>
Date: Wed, 5 Mar 1997 12:20:59 +1000 (EET)
On Wed, 5 Mar 1997, Osborn, Paul PR wrote:

> The biggest problem I see with debating this issue is the lack of
> information on the effects spotlights, pishing etc. have on the birds.
> Has anyone done a rigorous study of this issue? It's easy to postulate
> that shining a spotlight into a bird's eyes will temporarily blind it,
> but for how long? Unless we can measure the effects of these activities
> we cannot hope to achieve anything by this debate and might as well talk
> about the weather. 

It's sunny down here today; thanks for asking.  

But seriously, nature conservation is a conservative discipline, or it
should be.  If there's any chance that a temporarily blinded animal is
then exposed to an elevated risk of predation or injury, and it seems
overwhelmingly likely that it is (maybe not in the case of top order
predators like large owls), then we should err on the side of caution.  If
I'm surveying, I only use the light on an animal long enough to positively
ID it, maybe a second or two.  If it's looking straight at me, & therefore
straight at the light, I shift the main part of the beam away from its
eyes.  These seem to be good "rules of thumb" regardless of the lack of
data on the harmfulness or otherwise of spotlighting. 

What I'm concerned about is indiscriminate spotlighting with no regard for
the animals.  I've seen people train a strong light on a possum or bird
for 5 minutes or more.  I probably did the same thing as a beginner, but
with the benefit of 20 years hindsight, common sense suggests to me that
this is unwise & unethical.  When people accompanying me request that I
leave the light on an animal longer for a better look, I decline if the
animal is looking straight into the light.  Even a red light doesn't solve
that dilemma, except that the animal may return to its routine, &
therefore look away from the light. 

> If anyone out there has some hard evidence on impacts
> let's hear about it, then we can form some opinion. Otherwise, some will
> say 'Don't do it' others will say 'Why not?' and we will keep going
> around in circles.

Research into this would be useful.  Perhaps we should encourage one of
the vision labs or zoology depts of the universities to put it on their
research agenda.  It could be funded by the ecotourism industry!  I
believe that CSIRO & the Wet Tropics WHA are looking at the impact of
saturation spotlighting of mammals by the tourism industry on the Atherton
Tableland in North Qld, but I'm not sure what aspects they are looking at. 

In the mean time, I'd encourage people to think more about what they're
doing.  An absence of hard data shouldn't be an excuse for ignoring the
issue, particularly where common sense or instinct could provide some 
minimum standards.

Lawrie Conole
Geelong, Victoria, Australia

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