PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 131, Winter 2003: Human Disturbance

It is crucial to respect the welfare of rare and endangered species.


Ensuring that our activities do no harm

Birders' Code of Ethics

Melissa Pitkin

Human Disturbance
Executive Director's Column
Vulnerable Coastal Habitats
Invasive Plants
Responsible Science
Birding Ethics
Focus on Feeders
Planned Giving to PRBO
Spain Oil Spill

As shown in this Observer, human activities often result in impacts on birds and other wildlife. This can be true of scientists, land managers, each of us in our daily lives, and even birdwatchers. The American Birding Association has developed a "code of ethics" for birders and wildlife watchers, to ensure that we are not doing more harm than good while we enjoy these magnificent creatures.

If you watch birds and other wildlife, please take the time to read this code carefully. It can, and should, be downloaded from the ABA website at If you do not have Internet access, contact me at 415-868-1221, ext. 307 for a printout.

Here, I would like to expand upon a few points that are made in the birding ethics code:

"Promote the welfare of birds and their environments." Under this heading is a section addressing endangered and threatened species, species of special concern, and those rare to an area. It is crucial to respect the welfare of these species and to remember that habituation to people may perpetuate the threatened or endangered status of the species. This means that it is irresponsible to participate in any of the following activities:

* Calling or hooting to attract Spotted Owls or other threatened bird species

Spotted Owl: a call for ethical birding. Photo courtesy Point Reyes National Seashore

* Staking out the nest or location of an endangered species for birding trips or viewing by other birders

* Violating posted land or area closures or restrictions on recreational activities by wildlife managers or agencies

This part of the ethics code also refers to nesting birds, which are especially sensitive to disturbance. While birding, be sure you are not compromising a nesting bird through photography or intense viewing, as this may cause the bird to abandon its nest.

"Ensure that feeders, nest structures and other artificial bird environments are safe." Because we love birds, we are often drawn to the idea of putting up bird feeders and nest boxes either to help the birds or to attract them to our yards for further enjoyment. We must realize, though, that our actions, if not done correctly, may actually have a negative affect on the birds we are trying to help. For example, the Brown-headed Cowbird, well known as a nest parasite with negative impacts on open-cup nesting songbirds, can be favored by certain kinds of bird feeding. (See sidebar and also Rich Stallcup's "Focus" in this issue).

By observing a code of ethics for watching birds and wildlife, we can make a difference--ensuring that our activities cause the creatures we love no harm.

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