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.


Owls of North America_Flickr group

Owls of North America Flickr GroupI started a Flickr group called Owls of North America a few weeks ago and the group already has 27 members and 216 amazing photos.
If you love owls make sure to check out this group and if you have photos to contribute please add them. I hope to see you soon.


Owl baiting debate - readers' thoughts

I thought I'd share some excerpts of the thought-provoking discussion on the current topic of owl baiting. I'd love to hear what your thoughts are - please click here to add your comments.

Susan Gets Native: I LOVE that you opened this discussion, dude. Being personally involved with birds of prey, I have strong feelings about it. Owl baiting is a big mistake on too many fronts. Just looking at it from the mouse's point of view: Pet store mice are not "winter hardy", and if they manage to escape the talons of the owl, they are then subjected to dying from exposure. (we can't do live prey testing during the winter, because our mice are domesticated)… We have messed things up spectacularly already...why alter the behavior of these wonderful birds (that can get along just fine without us) just for a nice photo?... And "using the photos to encourage conservation and education (from one of the links)" is a big load of malarkey. If you are a professional photographer and you can't get a good pic of an owl who is just SITTING there, it's time to hang up the camera.
John: It would seem to me that the main concerns would be (a) endangering the bird by encouraging it to hang around unsafe places or (b) causing it to forget or not learn how to hunt on its own. For photography it is best to err on the side of caution if the answers to those questions are not known.

On the other hand, I have no problem with researchers using bait to band or otherwise study owls. The value of the data outweighs any potential harm, in my opinion.

Bird girl: There are people who freak out about using an ipod to call a bird. I didn't know people used bait to get better owl pictures. But I'll tell you I use mealworms to get better bluebird pictures and I LOVE it! Let's face it...it has to be a hassle to bait an owl - I'm sure it can be done responsibly. And don't think just because someone is a trusted member of the birding community that they can always be trusted. I was just reading a book last night which described a former president of a large birding organization who found a sleeping saw-whet in a shrub - took it to his house (several blocks away)and placed it on his Christmas tree where it slept all day!!! He then let it go at dusk - HOLY CRAP!

Larry Jordan: If you are a good photographer and know your subject, you don't need to bait. You just need to know where your subject will be and what their habits are. Then have patience.

Sam Webster:As a professional photographer and owl baiter I can appreciate both sides of the baiting issue.

No doubt baiting has created a lot of animosity between both groups. My belief is that baiting done responsibly does not harm an owl, in fact it may actually save an owls life.

The owls I bait are in remote areas and are not being baited by any other photographers. I limit my baitig to 3-4 mice and quickly move on after getting my photographs. I also raise all my own mice from local stock. I have absolutely no evidence of habitualization to humans based on my 10 years working with birds of prey provided the baiting is done properly.

Steve Berardi: It's wrong to bait owls because it introduces a piece of food to them that would not otherwise be available in their natural habitat/ecosystem. It's just as bad as feeding wild animals when you're camping, or throwing your apple cores and orange peels on the ground of hiking trails.

Barbara: Someone in one of those blog links asked what the difference was between "baiting" birds by putting out seed and using rodents to lure owls. I don't agree with baiting but I do supply seed for the birds. While there is a whole host of ethical issues involved here and a few fuzzy grey lines as well, I stop short of making a "life and death" decision in order to satisfy a passion. I suppose we interfere with nature and affect its balance every time we set foot in the woods....and yet, we are ARE a part of nature, aren't we?

Tom Pirro: This is almost like debating relegion! I do not have big issue with people feeding these birds (and using a little good judgement), but not if it turns the scene into a carnival-like atmostsphere.

I'd love to hear what your thoughts are - please click here to add your comments.


Snow makes Pine Siskins grumpy

We had a snow storm roll through Sunday night into Monday morning that brought us about 6 inches of fluffy snow. The snow also brought a mass of birds to my feeders including Fox sparrow, Red winged blackbird, tons of white throated sparrows, Juncos and a single Carolina wren along with the usual suspects – Titmice, Blue jays, Chickadees et al. This would have been a usual winter storm as far as the birding landscape was concerned had it not been for the feisty and raucous Pine Siskins that are still mobbing my thistle feeders.

It turns out that bad weather brings out the worst in the Pine Siskins. As it is they are pretty pushy when it comes to time spent with THEIR food. Well the cold weather made all of them especially grumpy and brought out their street fighter instinct. One Siskin was especially ready to fight ANYTHING that moved. He would hunker down and wait for an unsuspecting Junco to land on HIS platform feeder.

Pine Siskin
Pine Siskin
Although it was snowing at a good clip it didn’t seem to bug the Siskin in the least. He launched one aerial assault after another.

Pine Siskin Junco fighting

Pine Siskin Junco fighting

Pine Siskin Junco fighting


URLs restricted by robots.txt - Help!

I tried to submit my blog's site map using Google's webmaster tools and I received a report that 74 of my posts/URLs were restricted by robots.txt. Can anyone help me with this? This is obviously killing my web traffic, but I have no idea what I'm doing wrong.... HELP please!