RE: Taping birds.

Subject: RE: Taping birds.
Date: Tue, 18 Nov 1997 22:04:26 -0600 (CST)
On 11/18/97 17:01:36 you wrote:
>> 1. In relation to the discussion of using bird tapes.  Are there 
>> studies (with specific evidence) which demonstrate damage due 
>> to using tapes? Is there substantive theory which suggests harm 
>> might be caused? References?
>Yes, I believe such studies exist, where birder densities are higher
>(USA, UK), but no, I don't have the reference(s).  

To my knowledge, there has been no study demonstrating damage to birds from 
tape playback in 
the U.S.  For many years I have been urging critics of bird recording and 
playback to conduct a 
controlled study of the following sort: Pairs of common breeding species in 
similar habitat would 
be banded.  A commercial tape of one or two songs of the species would be 
played periodically 
from a spot in one territory, while no tapes would be played in the other 
territory.  The reactions 
of the study pair to playback would be noted, displacement of banded birds by 
floaters in either 
territory would be monitored and the floaters banded for ease of reference, and 
the breeding 
success of birds in the study and control territories would be compared.

I am a bird recordist, and find playback essential to collect a variety of 
vocalizations, including 
alarm vocalizations that rarely are given or heard, and to lure some species 
close enough to lower 
the record level for high quality recording and attract unidentified calling 
birds so that they may 
be identified.  When I am collecting tapes, I often will play back each 
successive cut to see if I 
can provoke a different, possibly more excited response, thus gathering as many 
vocalizations as possible from a particular bird.  

Most birders who use canned tapes to attract a bird into view play one or two 
cuts that never 
vary.  Sometimes such limited tapes can provoke a highly excited response, but 
they often have a 
modest impact on the subject bird, which pops out for a look, then fails to 
respond further.

I'm not aware of any case in which a bird is known to have been driven off 
territory by tape 
playback.  Indeed, some vagrants in the eastern U.S. have been bombarded with 
tape playback 
day after day, yet continue to respond and remain at the stakeout site for 
extensive periods.

The educational and conservation benefits of using tape playback to attract 
birds are obvious.  I've 
shown birds to people who never would see them by using tape playback, or by 
whistling calls or 
squeaking.  If they can see it, they are much more likely to care about its 
welfare.  Also, I think it 
is preferable for large bird tours to call in individuals of needed species 
using playback, keeping 
the group on a trail, than for the tour participants to fan out off trail 
looking for the birds.

Without asking the membership's views, the American Birding Association adopted 
a "Code of 
Birding Ethics", written by a board member who supported the recent firing of 
Paul Lehman, the 
highly regarded Editor of Birding.  (The members were not consulted about the 
sacking of Paul either.)  The "Code of Birding Ethics" includes the following 
passage on the use 
of bird recordings:

"Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never 
use such methods in 
heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, 
Endangered, or of Special 
Concern, or is rare in your local area."

While I think it is desirable to limit the use of recordings in heavily birded 
areas where playback 
is likely to be heard by other birders, there is no evidence to suggest that 
using recordings has any 
adverse impact on birds in such areas.  Similarly, there is no evidence to 
suggest that using 
recordings to attract rare, threatened, or endangered birds is detrimental to 
them.  Indeed, more 
recordings are needed of most birds in those categories.  If bird recordists 
are unable to approach 
the birds with their equipment and to use playback when collecting recordings, 
the opportunities 
to add to the libraries of bird sounds will be lost.  It's fortunate that the 
Green Police weren't 
around in 1954 when Stuart Keith taped the last vagrant Bachman's Warbler in 
northern Virginia.  
That tape is the only recording of the species, which has not been observed for 
many years and 
may be extinct, presumably due to wholesale habitat destruction in the 
southeastern U.S. and 

While the "Code of Birding Ethics" specifically condemns some use of tape 
recordings as 
"unethical", it takes no position on bird banding (ringing).  Yet many, if not 
most, bird banders 
are listers themselves (e.g., banding vagrant birds for an individual's life 
list of birds banded), the 
scientific necessity of much banding is highly questionable, and even the most 
careful bird banders 
kill birds.  I've never killed a bird by tape recording it or playing back the 
tape, and am not aware 
of anyone else having done so.

Furthermore, watching birds disturbs them, except where birds are exceptionally 
tame, as at 
O'Reilly's.  In places such as Irian Jaya, where small birds are relentlessly 
hunted for food by the 
natives, the mere presence of a human causes substantial disturbance to most 
species in the 
vicinity.  If any disturbance of birds is deemed to outweigh the educational or 
scientific benefits 
of the observation method causing the disturbance, bird watching would have to 
be prohibited 
almost everywhere.

There may be no species of wild bird for which every vocalization has been 
Furthermore, many species endemic to Africa, Asia, and Latin America have not 
been tape 
recorded at all, or their vocalizations are poorly known from very few, 
fragmentary recordings.  
Thus, I think it would be desirable to encourage more birders to take up tape 
recording (as soon 
as possible, in view of the acceleration of deforestation in every country and 
the human 
population explosion), in the hope that a few may become seriously interested 
in filling the 
substantial gaps in the major collections.

John Wall
New York

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