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Birding Ethics


Birding unfortunately can have negative impacts on the environment. Often these impacts are unintended or are the result of lack of awareness. The purpose of this Guide is to increase awareness of potential negative impacts that bird watchers and photographers may have on birds. It is also hoped that these guidelines will help commercial birding guides to understand the effects of multi visits to the same locations.


Promote the welfare of birds and their habitat

Avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger

Birders should keep an appropriate distance and where possible, stay on marked trails and avoid entering restricted areas, no matter how tempting it may be to venture closer. Disturbing a bird’s feeding area or nesting sites can cause stress which may drive the bird into an area where it is more vulnerable to predators.

Limit the use of recordings and other methods to attract birds, especially in heavily birded areas

Keep well back from nests.

Use a hide and take advantage of natural cover. 

Remember you are responsible for ensuring your favourite birds will still be around to be appreciated by future generations. By respecting, supporting the protection of bird habitat, birders play an essential part in the ongoing survival of bird species


Call playback 

The use of call playback can distress some species and may disrupt feeding and/or breeding activity. However, if artificial bird calls are to be used they should be used for limited periods and be played at a volume lower than that of the target bird. They should not be used during the target bird’s breeding season.

The use of such devices should always be kept to a minimum, particularly in areas of high visitation by birders where call playback by other birders may well have occurred in the recent past. Responsible use of call playback can be valuable in locating birds without causing serious harm. If in doubt, avoid using call playback, particularly during nesting season when birds may be called off incubation duties, or even abandon the nest altogether.



Spotlighting disturbs birds and animals which may be sleeping or resting and may interfere with the night sight of nocturnal species. Using a spotlight near a nest may also cause birds to abandon it. It is recommended that birders adopt a precautionary approach and if necessary, keep the time that a bird is held in the spotlight to a minimum i.e. for seconds rather than minutes. The use of lower intensity spotlights, red filters and directing the light to the side of the subject will help reduce the discomfort to the bird. 




The wellbeing of the bird must be the main concern and every effort should be made to ensure that the bird is not stressed in any way.

Particular care is required when photographing nesting birds which may abandon the nest as a result of disturbance caused by the erection of hides and other equipment, by too frequent visits to the nest site or by the sounds and flash of the camera.

Photographers should not ‘garden’ the area around the nest by removing branches or other objects which may block a clear view of the nest as this will increase the exposure of the nesting birds to the weather and to predation.

There are no circumstances where modification to the nest or its approaches in order to force the bird into a more photogenic position is acceptable.

Photographers should keep a close watch on their subject and look for signs of distress. Lingering too long in a bird’s core territory can cause undue stress and may result in nest abandonment.

Photographers should use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups. 

Rare bird sightings


It is natural for a birder to want to share the exciting discovery of a new nest, a rare bird species or an unknown birding site, but doing so could result in increased stress to the birds. 

The location of nesting sites of rare species should only be divulged to responsible birders.

Habitat disturbance 

Avoid leaving litter along a birding trail, and do not move dead branches, brush or tree limbs in order to see birds more clearly—move your body instead to find a better observational angle. Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; and otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum. 

Respect the law and the rights of others

Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission

It is important that birders respect the rights of private land owners and seek permission prior to entering private property. When birders enter an area without permission from the appropriate landholder they can damage relations between the owner and the entire birding and conservation communities. This can have a direct conservation impact by denying researchers access to important habitats, and creates a negative view of birders that can undo years of community bridge-building work. So please, always seek permission before entering property to view or photograph birds. 

Birding is one of the most popular hobbies in the world, and an ethical birder is a polite one. When visiting popular birding locations, share the best views with other birders and avoid any behaviour that may disrupt others.


Group Birding Ethics

Commercial tour group operators have a responsibility to promote ethical birding and to educate their participants on issues pertaining to bird conservation.

Report bird sightings

Practice common courtesy in interactions with other people

Practice common courtesy in time limitations and sharing of public hides and birding sites

Limit group sizes to reduce the impact on the environment and do not interfere with others using the same area.

Be aware of the impact photography can have on birds- avoid lingering around nests or core territories for long periods and limit the use of artificial light

Avoid using methods such as flushing, spotlighting and call playback, particularly during nesting season when birds may be called off incubation duties, or even abandon the nest altogether 

Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist- avoid leaving litter along a birding trail and otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum 

Consider the birds – always put the health and wellbeing of birds first- consider the impact you as an individual and the group are having on birds and their environment

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