I've been following this discussion with interest, as the use of call
playback is something that troubles me and I've given a fair amount
of thought to, although I'll admit I do use it judiciously myself.
The way I see it, the use of playback could have several undesirable
consequences that we need to consider, including:
a) Stress to the bird who thinks there is a rival in its territory.
This is possibly made worse by the fact that, no matter how hard it
tries, it cannot see this intruder, especially if the call is played
repeatedly. Effects on the bird's survival might be negligable or
might be significant, depending on the circumstances.
b) If the bird has just arrived or is passing through/looking for a
territory, it might think the territory is already occupied and move
on. I can think of one example from personal experience where I
believe this may have happened.
c) If used often, the bird might get habituated to the playback and
stop responding (more a problem for the birdwatchers than the bird -
unless it also stops responding to actual rivals).
There are probably more that I haven't thought of. Bear in mind also
that the calls used might have a number of purposes, not just the
territorial song but alarm calls, contact calls, begging young etc,
and we don't necessarily know which they are. So it's difficult to
predict what the possible effects of our actions are.
David Stowe asked "No-one has really explained why it is OK to pish
and whistle yet not play the recorded call."
I think that imitating the call (if it's done well), should be
considered the same as playing a recording.
Pishing, I think, is a little different as the bird responds mostly
out of curiosity, rather than territorial defence. So (a) and (b)
above would not be an issue with pishing.
As a guide I often get the impression it is expected of me to use
playback. I will do this in the case of otherwise hard to see birds,
but I am always careful not to use it for the same bird in the same
location frequently, and as soon as there is a response I stop the
tape. Obviously at popular birding sites there is a danger of more
frequent playback by successive visitors and we all need to keep this
Regarding using it for endangered species research, I think the
benefits of knowledge gained are a valid justification, assuming the
researcher uses appropriate care (which they generally do in my
experience). Photography, being an effective way of promoting
wildlife conservation, perhaps falls into a similar category.
These are just my personal opinions, I think it's a difficult and
I much prefer birding without using playback at all, and never bother
using it for myself. As some others have said, it feels a bit like
cheating to me.
Guided birding in the Blue Mountains & Capertee Valley
PO Box 330
Katoomba NSW 2780
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