Thoughts On Ethical Birding

Shortly after catching the birding bug I became aware of an area, a valley tucked between two mesas, within walking distance of my house. Bored with the robins and magpies in my front yard, I longed to branch out to more open areas. A popular place to walk your dog, it was but a sample of foothill habitat, patched with mountain mahogany and skunkbush. Here I discovered a pair of nesting Red-tailed Hawks. After awhile, I became aware of an easier way to enter “the foothills”: a neighbors backyard. I was also aware of the suspicion I would elicit. Furthermore, this neighbor had a smoosh-faced pug that would surely have a yapping fit. I asked the neighbor for permission and found that, after explaining my birdy endeavors, they were quite open to letting me cross their yard. The dog remains a problem to this day.


Many “trespassing” situations are not so simple. Consider the following true story: a birder in southeast Arizona knew about a Flame-colored Tanager in TNC Ramsey Canyon Preserve. The tanager was on private land around the refuge manager’s house. After speaking to all the birders the manager did not invite anyone into the yard to see the bird, the bird remained heard only. A few birders suggested sneaking in after the manager left. Although no one did, most people agreed that walking near the off limits area was not unethical assuming sensitive species were not present. The ABA Birding Code of Ethics suggests “Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners.” Would it have been ok for the birders to proceed in search of the Flame-colored Tanager? Do you agree with their line of thinking?