January 8, 2015
Cerulean Warbler at the grocery store
Cerulean Warbler at the grocery store
In our household my wife does the grocery shopping, every Wednesday, typically around mid-morning, two or three supermarkets, Costco once a month, because this fits her schedule and our lifestyle.  Now imagine we’re homeless, living hand to mouth in a blighted neighborhood with only a few “convenience” stores widely scattered amidst vacant lots, thieves, and desperate killers.  “Dystopian?”  Yes, and welcome to the lifestyle of birds on a planet with increasing pollution and decreasing habitat.

I promised you a list of reasons why using tapes to attract birds is not a good idea, but there is really only one reason.  Think about avian lifestyle.  With the exception of a little downtime at midday, birds spend dawn to dusk (dusk to dawn for nightbirds) procuring food.  There’s certainly some bathing, some establishing and defending territory during nesting season, some time travelling for migratory species, but finding and securing sustenance is really all birds do and, unlike us, they must do it 12/7.  Responding to tapes interrupts that vital activity and further drains the energy that vital activity needs and that vital activity replenishes.

Bird photography has given me special insight into this.  I’ve noticed over the years that birds responding to tape are more difficult to photograph than birds going about their normal business.  Taped birds, whether coming to the sound of their own species, a predator call, or an owl tape are noticeably more frenetic, often continuing to feed even while looking for the voice on the tape, but jumpier, flightier, and considerably more active.  This is not conducive to good bird photography, but is certainly more conducive to higher than normal stress levels and the correlative energy expenditure for the bird.

Multiply that stress level and energy expenditure during breeding season when, think about it, most taping takes place, and it is easy to see that the use of tapes is beneficial to only one of the participants in the transaction, that participant not being the most important one.  It should be all about the bird, not the so-called birdwatcher.  Next time you find yourself exposed to taping, watch the bird carefully and ask yourself if you’d like to be that bird.

The other issue involved is that taping begets taping.  If you’re taping with or near a group and other birders assume you are more knowledgeable than they based on the fact that you’re using tape, you just know that their further assumption is that taping is alright.  The birds will not thank you for expanding the ripple effect that will follow.

Here’s a suggestion for the ABA whose rules fuel the listing game.  Include in your Code of Birding Ethics something to the effect that taped birds don’t count.  Though that would not deter all the obsessed, hubristic fools traipsing abound out there with their I-gadgets, it would certainly send a powerful environmental message and make all birders think about how their actions are affecting the planet.

Here’s a suggestion for you.  Don’t use tape and don’t condone those who do.