Play a Song, Hurt a Bird?

Carlos Calle/Guiacalles

Play a Song, Hurt a Bird?

A new study warns that taped playbacks used to attract birds might be harming them.

By Simone M. Scully
Published: 10/27/2013

Rare is the birder who doesn’t use sound to attract his quarry. Pishing, tape recordings and now iPhones are often considered the tools of the trade. But a new study published in PLOS One warns that sound, particularly taped playbacks, could be harming birds by stressing them out and interrupting their normal routines. 

A Princeton University researcher examined the effects of playbacks on 24 groups of plain-tailed wrens and 12 groups of rufous antipittas in the forests of Ecuador. He played a five-minute recorded song, then monitored the birds for one hour afterwards. Both species would sing more often after hearing the recording and repeated the songs more often. He deduced from these observations that the increasing singing might be wasting the birds time and zapping their energy by causing them to respond to non-existent intruders. The distractions the playbacks create for the birds could prevent them from caring for their nests, foraging or looking for mates.

“Birdwatchers are ardent conservationists and they want to minimize their impact while observing secretive birds,” Harris said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, as evidenced by this research, birdwatchers may also have negative effects on ecosystems.”

He also conducted a second trial on the wrens to monitor the effect of prolonged exposure to the recordings.  They sung more for the first 12 days, then eventually got used to the constant recordings and stopped responding. 

Harris said that further research would be needed to better understand the long-term impacts of the recordings on specific behavior, such as mating. 

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Simone M. Scully

Simone M. Scully is a reporter at Audubon Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @ScullySimone

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


Its was about time this

Its was about time this subject came to the debate " The Famous Play Back"
Everything we do in this planet has a print, How big is the print we would like to leave in the wilderness today?
Certainly, play-back is a common technique use by birdguides worldwide to bring birds into a range of view for the clients. Its effective when experience and bird behaviour play together.
Most clients get disturbed by the abuse of the of it. The fun of the game is finding them with a minimal impact.
This might help to promote self-control
Rate Your Guide per species you've seen in prevoius trips:
0 PlayBack: Excellent
1 PlayBack: Very Good
2 PlayBack: Good
3 PlayBack: Regular

It might be good if the

It might be good if the author read the entire paper before writing a misleading article to bolster one side in a discussion that is rather important to a lot of birders. I copy it here, wondering how it did not affect the conclusions of the Audubon article:

"By contrast, the habituation results we present suggest that frequent birdwatchers’ playback may have minimal impacts on wren behavior."

Intelligentibus pauca. Draw your own conclusions.

In lightly-birded locations,

In lightly-birded locations, the frequent use of play-back is unlikely to cause significant harm. At places where certain birds are exposed to frequent play-back, the disruption could become essential... until the chicken gets used to it and stops responding. I'd like to see research that information this possibility in a comprehensive way.

I hope this doesn't apply to

I hope this doesn't apply to companion birds. My Ziggy loves music, and, for many years, I've made cds for him to listen to, for especially when I was gone. He sometimes tells me "that's pretty" when he likes a song a lot. My other amazon, Buddy, seems to try to sing along sometimes, although his attempts have not been particularly successful to my ears.

If this is an accurate

If this is an accurate summary of the research, it seems a real stretch to claim that it represents evidence of harm to the birds, much less "negative effects on ecosystems." Did the researcher actually document loss of energy, reduced mating success, poorer nest-building, or reduced food intake - or are those just speculations?

Unless these birds are occupied with those vital activities 100% of the time, there would appear to be room in their daily lives for a little extra singing.

Like everything else, it's a matter of degree. In lightly-birded locations, the occasional use of playback is unlikely to cause measurable harm. At spots where certain birds are exposed to frequent playback, the disruption could become significant... until the bird gets used to it and stops responding. I'd like to see research that addresses this possibility in a rigorous way.

This is another contribution

This is another contribution to the debate over playback, a subject of some controversy among birders. I hope we will all take note that it concerns two species of birds and only during breeding season. The effects of playback are likely to vary widely depending on species and, especially, time of year.

This topic has been mulled

This topic has been mulled over to death and this study contributes little to nothing to the subject. First of all, many bird species that hold territories (particularly Rufous Antpittas and Plain-tailed Wrens, which I know well) sing throughout the day. Studies have shown that territorial birds learn to identify their neighbors’ songs and calls and need the constant re-enforcement to make sure that either the neighbors to the south are still there, as well as those to the far east of their territory. When they hear an unusual neighbor a territorial pair will react, especially if the song comes well within their territory. The study is right in suggesting that after five minutes of playback repeated over several days, the territorial pair will not respond and ignore the now familiar but irrelevant neighbor. This tells me that intensive playback *does not* have an effect on territorial birds. Anyway, who plays a tape for five minutes at one spot? Birders play a song, the target birds moves in, it is seen and the birder or the group moves on.

The authors conclude that play back *could* prevent birds from caring for their nests, foraging, or looking for mates. I conclude playing the tape for five minutes! *could* have a temporary, but short lived effect on bird’s normal behavior likely to mimic the constant appearance of floating birds looking to establish a new territory. I would assume birds are exposed to these interactions on a regular basis.

It is self-regulating. It is a known fact that birds exposed to continues playback along popular birding trails get taped out and no longer respond to playback. These birds learned that these playbacks are not a threat to their territories. Not a real threat to the ecosystem as the authors seem to suggest.

Huh....wonder if that

Huh....wonder if that pertains to owl mating/territorial calls played at night during migration....

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