[CT Birds] thoughts on using playback recorders....

lcwahle at aol.com lcwahle at aol.com
Thu Jun 5 07:58:16 EDT 2014

I understand that recorded bird calls are used by many as atool to observe and photograph birds, but I was motivated to post the followingby an recent experience that I found disturbing… perhaps more disturbingthan the bird found it.

This occurred in at the Kent site where the yellow-breastedchat has been sited.  The bird was heardand seen, and it flitted to a nearby tree. Before even attempting to re-locate the bird, one of the observers Ifound myself with had his playback recorder going.  I was dumbfounded. The bird was still right there…why reach for the recorder so quickly?
My first thought was that playback should not be used at allwith a State-Endangered species (in fact it is illegal with a FederallyEndangered species, see link to Sibley below), and that this type ofdisturbance would surely affect the individual’s success.  But, after some discussion with birdbiologists and conservationists, I realized that there may be times whenplayback is okay if done mindfully… though I still don’t believe it was in thecase I witnessed.  

>From one of our State biologists, “…it is important that wedon't distract adults from doing what they need to do to have successfulnesting- if they are chasing a ghost intrude, they are not feeding themselvesor their chicks.”  Granted, this is/wasjust a singing male announcing his fitness in a new habitat patch (created,by-the-way, as part of the New England cottontail Initiative).  To my knowledge, there have been no signs ofnesting or even the presence of a female… but they may be soon to follow.  This individual is potentially the seed to anew nesting location for a state endangered species in a region of the statewhere there have been no nesting records in the past 30 years.  

Anyway, in pursuit of great birds, and especially rarebirds, I hope we, as a enthusiastic birding community, are always considerateand thoughtful about the possibilities of disturbance.  David Sibley does a nice job of discussing thepros and cons of playback at this link:  http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/04/the-proper-use-of-playback-in-birding/.  He concludes with the following.
“Withplayback, you are effectively teasing a bird into the open, just like trying toget a fish to bite a lure. If a fish makes a pass at your lure on one cast, youwouldn’t switch to a bigger, more colorful lure and throw it right on top ofthe fish over and over. No… you would use the same lure, cast it carefully andgently beyond the fish, and retrieve it with as much finesse as you can muster.In the same way, if you are trying to attract a bird into the open and it showssome interest in what you are doing, your next move should be the same thingagain but lighter, with more finesse, trying to pique the bird’s curiosity.
It is upto all of us to encourage our fellow birders to behave responsibly in thefield. Field trip leaders who use playback should make an effort to educatetheir clients about the proper use of playback. If trip participants want theirleader to use less or more playback, they should have a calm and reasoneddiscussion about it. In many cases we will need to educate new birders about theimpact they have by playing recordings from the app they just downloaded totheir phone. In the face of all this, it is understandable that heavily-visitedparks and refuges often choose the easily-enforceable solution of a total banon playback, and that should be respected.
As in allthings related to birds, there is a lot that is unknown about their response toplayback. More research on the effects of playback, including varied specieswith different social systems, would be very helpful. In the meantime, beingcourteous and respectful to the birds and to fellow birders should avoid mostof the potential conflicts and allow us to continue to enjoy birding withminimal impact on the birds.”
Good Birding!


Lisa Wahle
Chester, CT

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