Attracting birds with calls

To: <>
Subject: Attracting birds with calls
From: Carol Probets <>
Date: Sun, 14 Jan 2007 10:56:33 +1100
Hi all,

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 in mind.

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 complex subject.

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.



Carol Probets
Guided birding in the Blue Mountains & Capertee Valley
PO Box 330
Katoomba NSW 2780


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