J. Morris

Let's Examine Birding Ethics

Dan Joling/Associated PRessPhotographers stand just off the shoulder of the Seward Highway along Potter Marsh in Anchorage, Alaska, to see the arrival of trumpeter and tundra swans during stopovers on autumn migratory flights.
Dan Joling/Associated PRessPhotographers stand just off the shoulder of the Seward Highway along Potter Marsh in Anchorage, Alaska, to see the arrival of trumpeter and tundra swans during stopovers on autumn migratory flights. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Nearly every group of avid sports enthusiasts has a code they adhere to while practicing their chosen sport or hobby.

In a conversation I had the other day with friend Ken McDowell, who heads up the safety department at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, we discussed his love of hunting and the camaraderie it generates. We also talked about the code among hunters that limits their share of the bounty as well as other rules, regulations and guidelines that have been set forth to promote the sport.

Birding is no different. Every birder who begins his or her journey into the fascinating world of birds and intends to take it beyond their backyard should familiarize themselves with the principles of birding ethics.

Though most of the rules listed below are just common sense, it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves every once in a while to avoid any delicate situations. The last thing we want is for non-birders to get vexed over something that was preventable in the first place.

Respect the environment: Getting good looks is nice but respect the birds' space. Always respect the environment, the birds and the rights of others.

Support the protection of bird habitat: Exercise restraint and caution when observing, photographing or using sound recordings. The less stress on the birds the better, especially during breeding and nesting season.

Never use recordings to try to attract birds that are endangered or threatened or of special concern. Stay back as far as possible when dealing with nest sites or roosts and take advantage of natural cover or a blind. Use artificial light sparingly.

The location of rare nesting birds should be disclosed only to the proper conservation authorities. When dealing with rare birds, first evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, their surroundings and people in the area.

Be certain to get permission if you are dealing with private land owners: There is nothing more humbling than to have a land owner point a gun at your head, especially if you smell alcohol on his breath. Stay on roads trails and paths where they exist and don't meander off.

Follow all rules and regulations regarding the use of public roads and public areas.

Practice common courtesy when in contact with others: Your exemplary behavior will encourage goodwill among birders and non-birders alike.

Make sure feeding structures and other artificial bird environments are safe: Keep feeders and water dispensers clean and avoid placing them in high predation areas where cats and other domestic animals reside.

Group birding requires special care. Follow the rules set down above and respect the interests, rights and skills of other birders. Be specifically helpful to beginning birders.

Group leaders have the responsibility of being role models for the group, and teaching through word and example.

n Keep groups to a size that limits impact on the environment.

n Make sure everyone in the group knows and practices this code.

n Special circumstances to the area needs to be shared with the group as a whole before the field trip begins.

n Where professional tours are concerned, the welfare of the bird life comes before commercial interests.

The Mississippi Coast Audubon Society conducts field trips during the spring and fall each year. The field trip leaders are generally all-around good birders and there are nearly always seasoned birders who have years of experience to help beginning birders. When joining a field trip it is important to recognize the leader and to stay with the group. Wandering off only leads to confusion. Everyone is encouraged to make their own pace and we usually carefully choose our locations as to not interfere with other recreational sports or activities. If you decide to leave early, please let your field trip leader know that you are going to do so. We also like to get information such as your email address so as to be able to contact you regarding future activities with the group.

Fall field trips for 2015 are well under way and will continue throughout October. If you would like to join any of these outings, you can see our schedule on our Facebook page, Mississippi Coast Audubon Society or Mississippi Coast Band of Birders.