Birding for Conservation

By Todd Watts

MARCH 26, 2020 — The avian world is so full of wonder. Birds have colourful plumages, brilliant eyes, incredible flight, and amazing evolutionary adaptations. Who wouldn’t enjoy the sight of these amazing creatures? Birders flock to natural areas throughout the world in search of “life birds”, glimpses of seldom seen behaviour, and the spectacles of migration. Unfortunately, the status of many bird populations is not good. Those of us who share our observations can help reverse this trend.

We all “bird” for different reasons. For some, it’s about numbers and can be highly competitive. Others prefer a slower pace. All birders, no matter why they go looking for birds, can contribute much to the understanding of bird behaviour and population status.

In today’s world, birders can report and share their sightings on numerous social media sites and in databases like eBird and iNaturalists. If you choose to use eBird, your contribution to science will be more significant. Your efforts will allow the eBird database to constantly expand. Numerous studies are now using this data. Through your submissions, researchers can better understand the distribution of species, when and where they occur during migration, how long they stop, and how many there are. Information such as this can be very useful when trying to determine how species are coping with climate change, invasive species, toxins, and other threats.

Imagine if birders focused on using their passion and skills to advance science and conservation. There are some very simple things we all can do. Even without changing our behaviour or visiting different places we could simply increase our collective efforts to share sightings and report in ways that allow for scientific use of our observations.

Good field notes make reports much more valuable. Those collecting information for science will diligently record weather info, note equipment used and describe their efforts. Such notes are the foundation of any good study. Taking notes is also an important skill for birders or naturalists to develop even if the information gathered is only for personal use. Increased note taking efforts could advance many studies.

Take note of your immediate environment. When taking notes and sharing sightings, it is important to note anything that could be affecting your ability to see or hear birds. Strong winds not only cause many birds to take shelter, they also make it more difficult to hear them. Winds can also stir up waves making detection of waterfowl far more challenging. The sounds of automobile traffic, running water, and other things also affect your ability to detect wildlife. Precipitation can have a similar effect, as can the changing of the tide.

Take note of equipment you are using. If you are looking for distant birds such as waterfowl and shorebirds, you might see a greater number of birds and have an easier time identifying them if you are using a spotting scope. The reverse can also be true. If your attention has turned to forest birds and you are using a scope, your chances of seeing many birds may be reduced due to reduced visibility in the canopy. For those reasons, it is always a good idea to make mention of any equipment used.

Take note of observation type. Noting whether you are viewing from a fixed location, walking, or driving a car is also very important as these things can greatly affect what is seen and heard. Distance traveled is another point of consideration. Did you see all of your birds within one hundred metres of your car or within 5 kilometres? Some observations take place when you are not actively engaged in looking for birds. Those are considered incidental observations and can be equally important to note.

No matter who you are and why you go looking for birds, your observations can contribute to a better understanding of bird behaviour and the status of bird populations. Sometimes, the best thing about looking for birds is knowing that your observations can help to protect them.

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