For the Birds Radio Program: Rude Birders

Original Air Date: Oct. 8, 1986 Rerun Dates: Jan. 13, 1989

A man is suing Everglades National Park because when he played a recording of a Barred Owl, an owl did what owls do.

Duration: 3′22″

Transcript

(Recording of a Barred Owl)

How do birders get good looks at owls and marsh birds and other elusive species? One way is to use recordings.

(Recording of a Barred Owl)

That recording of a Barred Owl’s call was taken off a record–A Field Guide to Bird Songs, published by Houghton Mifflin. A real Barred Owl hearing it, especially during the nesting season, would think that a competitor had invaded its territory, and would investigate. Naturally, if a birder kept playing the call, the owl would get agitated, and might attack. Birders with at least half a brain are satisfied with one good look, and quickly turn off the recorder. But every now and then a bird- watcher comes along who harasses birds with recordings, playing songs or calls repeatedly just to see what the bird will do. This is cruel when the bird is a small songbird–it can get so agitated that it drops dead from stress. But when the bird’s an owl, it’s stupid as well as cruel.

Anyone who has ever looked at an owl knows it has awesome killer feet–called talons. Even my dog, one of the stupidest Golden Retrievers in the history of dogdom, whose IQ is smaller than her leg count, won’t come near a hand-held raptor at Hawk Ridge. But apparently some bird watchers aren’t quite as observant, or maybe even as smart, as my dog. Not long ago a man played a Barred Owl tape right at a Barred Owl’s nest in Everglades National Park–a clever tactic if he was trying to donate blood to wildlife. Now you’d think that the kind of grown-up people who run around national parks with recordings of bird calls and sophisticated audio equipment must have some idea of what they’re doing, but this guy was so surprised and offended by the owl’s natural response that he’s suing the park for allowing a dangerous animal to exist so near the boardwalk. Now, thanks to him, the park is banning the use of all audio and mechanical devices to attract wildlife in the park.

This is hardly the only case of an individual birder or outdoors- type ruining things for everyone else out of rudeness, stupidity, or ever worse. Some groups of birders comb through marshes in a long line to scare up elusive birds called rails. Since one of the techniques these marsh birds use to evade their enemies is to stand stock still, they’re easily trampled to death by over-eager birders. Some wealthy birders use low-flying airplanes to scare up marsh birds, and some even destroy a marsh for a whole nesting season by chasing up birds in a tractor! It makes you wonder which is really more advanced–the human mind or a bird brain.

Trespassers and people who bring liability lawsuits against landowners often ruin things for others, too. One Colorado irrigation company closed three lakes when it was unable to renew its liability insurance policy for public recreation–the company even got a permit to spread rotenone on the lakes to kill all the fish so anglers wouldn’t be tempted to trespass. I’m afraid we still have a ways to go before our society is truly civilized.

(Recording of a Barred Owl)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”