Treating birders like outcasts!

Something has been bugging me for a little while now and I need to get it off my chest. I’ve found that writing stuff down helps me to organize my thoughts and my own personal mental debates. As I’ve mentioned previously, there was recently a heated exchange on one of the local birding listservs about someone revealing the location of a roosting owl. The unsuspecting victim was given a royal tongue lashing by many several of the listserv members. I’ve been fortunate to have seen many owl species both here in the States and in South Africa. Many of my owl encounters were the result of someone passing the owl’s location to me. I would suspect that the majority of birders are in the same boat. My question after reading the aforementioned tongue lashing was why we automatically assume the worst about birders. I realize that owls are the royal symbol or taboo birds of the natural world, but I just wonder why we assume that telling birders about a bird’s location will automatically result in the bird suffering.

Aha, I hear you saying ‘but what about ALL the cases when this does happen’. I would counter that in most cases the pandemonium is the result of the owl’s location being revealed through word of mouth. It also seems to be the case that the idiots a.k.a. ijuts are always in the minority. Check out this example from Christopher at the Picus Blog. I concede that there are ijuts, but they aren’t confined to the bird watching community. In fact I’ve seen quite a few people acting like ijuts around owls and they seemed to have VERY little knowledge about birds. So where did these people come from and why do we censor our information distribution to cater to them? It took me a while, but that is my key question.

From the time that I can remember I’ve always been interested in birds. I still remember my dad showing me a Paradise Flycatcher nest on our farm in Rustenburg. My early childhood memories are also filled with Grey Loeries and Crested Barbets eating figs in a tree very close to the house. Having said that, I can still vividly recall my awakening moment - that moment when birds became my obsession. I was on our farm in Rustenburg and dusk was setting in. I walked through a gate that separated our yard from the rest of the farm. Right next to the house we had a water tank that supplied our house and as I walking along the path looking at the water tank, a Barn owl fly over my head. I craned to get a better look and the owl circled me again locking eyes with me most of the way. It was a moment of beauty and something that I will never forget. The owl vanished into the night as quickly and silently as it appeared, almost seeming like a phantom of my imagination.

I would love to share this experience with another birder that has never seen an owl. Owls are special and we should be sensitive to their needs. I’m not proposing revealing the location of all owls, I just wonder whether the secrecy that surrounds them is really necessary and advantage to the birding community. Think of the birders you know. How many of them will push the line and disturb an owl? I know there is one or two ijuts that popped into your head, but again I don’t think we should cater to them – we only make them better at manipulating the system. Word of mouth is extremely effective and it seems to me that many owl locations are pretty well known. Most of the listserv owners and birding big shots get to know where the owls are because if anyone finds an owl they want to impress the bird gurus by telling them – RIGHT AWAY if at all possible. I know, because I’ve done the same thing. So should they be the only ones to see the owls? I have no idea how to monitor or regulate the sharing of information about owls. I am still coming to terms with my own thoughts even though I’ve discussed this topic before. At that stage the vast majority were opposed to revealing owl roosts although many did admit sharing the site with a fellow birder. I know it is taboo at the moment and although I’m challenging the idea in my mind I still wouldn’t reveal an owl’s location in public. I know the secrecy is the way we do it, but just because you’ve done something a specific way for a long time it doesn’t necessarily make it the best way.


Photog said...

You raise a good point Owlman. As a volunteer for the World Bird Sanctuary, I can tell you that most of the "ijuts" suffer from lack of education about the habits, comfort zones, etc., of the wildlife they are attempting to observe. This applies not only to owls, but to all wildlife. There is nothing I like better than to share a wildlife sighting with a newcomer--but I would do so only after cautioning them about the etiquette of wildlife watching. Most people who disturb wildlife do so because they don't know any better. We at the Sanctuary believe education is the key. Hmmm, maybe I'll do a post on our blog about the etiquette involved in approaching wildlife when trying to view and/or photograph it. Thanks for the idea.

Bird Girl said...

This debate will go on forever - nobody wants to tell --- everybody wants to see. There is so much diversity even among the birding 'elite' (so to speak). Last May I went on a birding trip. The first morning our bird walk leader was so uptight I could not WAIT to get away! Had a FIT if anyone even used their finger to point at a bird - and flipped when someone mentioned an owl location. In contrast - the next morning - different bird walk leader. Friendly...pished...pointed - took us to the owl location. A world of difference. Needless to say - I LOVED the 2nd leader. There are many times when we worry about the birds more than they worry about us. Yet, there has to be a balance for sure.

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday I saw a display of sheer arrogance (IMHO)that showed complete disregard for wildlife that had me just shaking my head.

There is a well known tree in one of our national parks that is loaded with spanish moss, a prime nesting material for Swallowtailed Kites. Yearly almost on schedule the birds show up to snatch moss on the wing in awesome flyby gymnastics. Sooooo magic a sight!

There was a photog parked under the tree with his gear. Nothing out of the ordinary, there are generally a few folks watching in the general area, mostly across from the magic tree.

But what got me was he found it necessary to bring his 2 large dogs with him and park them under the "TREE".

granted this is located in a busy parking lot, but would one not think that introducing additional large animal life into this to be a possible threat to the potential nesting success of the birds. Give Em a break people, look and enjoy but don't impact their ability to exist!

Owlman said...

Photog, I couldn't agree with you more. This issue is all about education, rather than policing. I think we (birders) can and should do a better job at educating people when it comes to dealing with birds and more broadly, wildlife!

Bird Girl, I agree that this is an ongoing issue. I'm surprised that VERY few people are presenting my point of view. I guess no one wants to rock the boat and be accused of harassing owls.

Anonymous, excellent example of ijuts - thanks!

Gallicissa said...

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You might also find
post by flowergirl interesting in this regard.

Owlman said...

Thanks Amila, I'll check it out!

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