Using call playback in bird watching and bird photography.

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: Using call playback in bird watching and bird photography.
From: "Robert Inglis" <>
Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2012 11:34:08 +1000
I know this is a topic which has been discussed here before and that it can 
easily be classed as “controversial” but an incident I witnessed recently has 
prompted me to believe the subject needs to be revisited.

Bird-photography is my principal birding interest and recently I visited a bird 
hide I have used on numerous occasions and where I have spent many hours 
quietly photographing some of the quite uncommon and wary species which, from 
time to time, visit this wetland situated in a Conservation Park. Some of those 
species are extremely wary and shy and are liable to react immediately to any 
movement or loud noises coming from the hide. Generally they dart back into the 
thick vegetation around the wetland and often do not emerge again for hours.

On this particular day, on entering the hide, I was confronted by a spectacle 
which I found quite disturbing and which has left me with a feeling of bitter 
disappointment and despair.

I won’t go into the finer details but suffice it to say I found a small group 
of photographers excitedly and vigorously attempting to photograph birds from 
the hide while using continuous and very loud call playback to encourage the 
birds to come closer. A very brief conversation indicated that the target 
species was the jacanas I had just seen fly past the hide, undoubtedly the same 
pair of jacanas which had been breeding with mixed success in that location for 
the past couple of years.

Rather than confront the photographers (I have learnt from experience that 
confrontation, gentle or assertive, is invariably met with aggression) and 
because I was being deafened by the volume of the call playback I immediately 
left the hide and returned home.

Over quite a number of years I have taken many thousands of bird-photos but I 
have never used call playback to attract my subjects; that doesn’t mean I am 
totally against the use of call playback but I do believe that, when it is 
used, it should be used very carefully and sparingly.

For that reason I offer for the consideration of all birders, including 
bird-photographers, the following suggestions for guidelines on using call 
playback as well as how to conduct oneself in a bird hide.

Call playback: (keeping in mind that the welfare of the bird is paramount)
- Never use call playback in areas where breeding and/or nesting is known or 
could reasonably be expected to be actually or likely to be happening;
- Use call playback sparingly in all locations and particularly in locations 
which receive high levels of birdwatching/photography traffic;
- Never use call playback in bird hides as these are locations specifically 
intended to cater for high levels of birdwatching/photography traffic and are 
invariably located in significant and, often, sensitive bird habitats;
- Stop using call playback when: the target bird has been identified; the bird 
appears upset; the bird becomes aggressive;
- Do not simply turn the call playback on and leave it running continuously;
- Use a moderate to low level of volume and not the maximum level the player 
equipment can manage;
- Never use “aggression” or “alarm” calls for playback.

Bird hides: (keeping in mind that the birds can see and hear the occupants of 
the hide)
- Avoid loud noise inside the hide, e.g., loud conversation and mechanical 
- Move around the hide quietly and slowly avoiding sudden and violent movements;
- Do not wave arms and/or camera lenses out of the viewing ports of the hide;
- Enter and exit the hide slowly and quietly.

I am sure other people can think of more possible “rules” but these are the 
ones I think to be most important.

I should also point out the following extract from the (Qld) Department of 
Environment and Resources (DERM) Operational Policy document on visitor 

“Section 139 of the Protected Areas Management Regulation states that a person 
must not use a radio, tape recorder or other sound or amplifier system in a way 
that may cause unreasonable disturbance to a person or native animal in a 
protected area.”

The whole document can be found at

"Penalties do apply to infringements and details of those penalties can be seen 
in the document “Proposed regulations under the Recreation Areas Management Act 
The document can be downloaded from this web page:
Note page 16, item 129. The penalty appears to be usually $175 but possibly up 
to $3750."

I should point out that I did not recognise the people involved in the incident 
described above and I am not in any way suggesting that the behaviour I 
witnessed is typical of that of all birdwatchers or 

Bob Inglis
Sandstone Point


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