The HOoo in Taboo

Dealing with taboo subjects can be tricky because people obviously have pretty strong opinions about them and people don’t generally talk about them either. Well I wanted to chat about one of the MAJOR taboos in the birding world – revealing an owl roost. Revealing an owl roost can be a MAJOR deal that can have pretty serious social implications for someone in birding circles. Chris W in WI says that “If I posted LE Owl locations to Wisbirdn, I'd get shot by the list owner and a few dozen other people… people in WI don't even post LE Owl sightings to Ebird!! much less tell anyone else about them”.

When bloggers post about owls they don’t post any specifics about owls and the post generally starts to sound something like Scott W’s “We moved on to another area (yes, I'm being intentionally vague...it's understood with birders that you don't reveal an owl's location, since they are easily disturbed), and Paul met up with another local birder who pointed out several Saw Whet Owls...all in all there were four in this spot, and we saw two”. This is NOT a bash at Scott, I’m just using his post to illustrate the caution that fellow birders take to conceal the location of the owls. (BTW, I’ve done the same thing on many occasions)
I definitely don’t think that this topic should be taken lightly and quite honestly I am very conflicted about which side (if any) I’m on. Revealing a roost may be life threatening for an owl and there have been cases where people have claimed that human interference directly resulted in an owls death:

During this month I’d like to get your thoughts on:
  • when (if ever) it’s ok to reveal a roost?
  • are some species more/less sensitive and if so what are they?
  • is there a difference between telling a fellow birder and a member of the ‘public’ about a roost?
  • do you tell fellow birders about a roost?
  • has a fellow birder told you about a roost?
  • are there any special cases where the public should know about a roost?
  • are there any benefits to telling the public about owl roosts?
  • are owls understudied because people don’t give away their locations

As I said when I started the post, I realize this is a taboo topic but I hope that you’ll take the time and courage to share your thoughts with me during this month.


Amy said...

I had no idea this was a taboo subject. Out here at the Twelve Acres all the surrounding land is owned by cousins and we all respect nature. Raptors are very active and populous on our family acreage. They know they can find food, shelter, nest sites and safety out here. No one ever takes shots at them or disturbs their nests. It never ceases to amaze me at how completely ignorant people are about the local wildlife. I'm no "tree hugger" but I do firmly believe in living cooperatively with wildlife to the benefit of all species.

Anonymous said...

Here in N. California we have a Yahoo Group called Northbay Birds and people regularly give exact locations and directions to owl locations, just as they do for any other bird sighting of interest. I don't recall ever reading a discussion about the ethics of it. I don't do it though. I feel very upset whenever I accidentally flush and owl from its roost - which happens most commonly with barn owls - and barn owls flying out during the day are in danger of getting tagged by hawks. Only GHO's are probably not too harmed by being flushed in daylight, but I still wouldn't want to be the one who caused it. There are many people I know who would keep a respectful distance and I would tell them on an individual basis. I wouldn't post exact locations online. I'd be vague and just say what species and the town or county I saw it in. That being said I've encounted a number of GHO's not roosting, but NESTING right out in the open! Including in suburban neighborhoods on palm fronds where they are completely exposed, visible and unperturbed by human observers. Also on Osprey platforms out in the open. But then the GHO fears no man, or woman, or crazed birder... Maggie, Hungry Owl Project, www.hungryowl.org
p.s. I sawa your comment on Camera Trap Codger about giving up on the screech owls nesting in your box this year - maybe they nest at different times where you are, but here in N. CA I don't believe it's too late for them to start nesting!