If you’re a birdwatcher, then you know the absolute thrill of seeing a new bird in your area. Or better yet, a bird so rare that people come from all over to see it. Birding etiquette is a must and not hard to do. But how to enjoy this fulfilling hobby without putting birds in danger? Here’s your complete guide to not being a jerk birder.
Birding Etiquette – Top 14 List of What Not To Do
Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed every single one of these “rules” being broken. All it does is make the person quickly disliked and disrupt the poor bird.
Birding etiquette really isn’t that hard; it just requires some respect and common sense.
If you love birds and consider yourself a bird chaser, birdwatcher, or all-around birder, then PLEASE do the birds, and all of us, a favor and don’t do these 14 things! The birds will benefit and thank you!
1. Do Not Chase – Ever!
This birding etiquette list isn’t in no particular order, except this one! Please do not ever chase a bird!
It’s so very tempting, I know, I’ve been there. Two years ago, we (Michigan) had a Painted Bunting up north that I drove to see. He was a bit of a distance away, but that’s what our high-powered lens is for, right?
He was also far from home and probably a little stressed, so chasing him away from the feeder he was eating under would have been completely wrong.
Please just watch the body language of the bird. You can easily see when it starts to get alarmed and is thinking of flying off. PLEASE STEP BACK if you see this behavior and give the poor bird some distance.
Most of these “rare” or “extremely cool” birds we drive to see are hungry, tired, possibly stressed, and maybe even disoriented.
Chasing them and thereby scaring them into flight could very honestly be the difference between the bird’s health. It’s possible it finally found some much-needed food until it got scared away.
Be respectful, keep your distance (even if others are not), go buy a new lens if you have to, and DO NOT CHASE, PLEASE!
2. NEVER make the bird fly so you can photograph it!
Every winter, birders in Michigan go to Snowy Owl hotspots and wait for these tired, hungry, gorgeous creatures to arrive.
Unfortunately, you have some incredibly selfish people who make them fly so they can get great pictures.
I have never seen it happen, but friends of mine have. And thankfully, they said something.
Seriously, if you want a picture of a bird flying, then plan to camp out with your camera and wait patiently. It might not fly that day, but with patience, you are sure to capture their flight.
Remember that many birds are tired, stressed, digesting food, or otherwise not wanting to fly at the moment. They might also be migrating and need that rest. PLEASE LEAVE THEM ALONE.
3. Being rude to others
In being kind to others, I mean your fellow birders that also traveled to see gorgeous birds.
There are birding hotspots that I go to that leave me pretty impressed with how friendly and helpful everyone is.
But you have your exceptions. Don’t be that exception.
Remember, you started out not knowing anything as well. And if someone is asking a lot of questions or don’t know “basic” things, that is okay. They are learning.
And please, don’t be a know-it-all. No one appreciates that.
If you are front and center of this gorgeous feathered creature and have several Birds & Blooms-quality photos, it’s kind to step aside and let someone else have that same chance.
It’s just the right thing to do.
As long as others aren’t breaking this birding etiquette list, then a no-judgment zone of allowing them to fully enjoy themselves is best.
4. Wander off trails and paths
I really can’t stand when I see someone pushing through tall weeds and climbing fences just to get closer to a bird. It irritates me to new levels!
In doing this, they are already breaking birding etiquette rule #1, #2, and usually #3.
They also may be crushing endangered plants, ground bird eggs, baby-any-kind-of-animal, or eroding soil.
It is 100% rude.
I don’t want to ruffle any feathers or upset anyone, but the highest form of respect for our natural world is to do just that, respect it.
So please, stay on the trails and paths and limit your birdwatching to those.
Plus, think about it, trudging through that tall grass might give you a body full or ticks or poison ivy. Yuck!
5. Not think of the bird’s condition
Birding etiquette really centers around the safety, concern, and respect for the bird.
I touched on this earlier, but you must think of the bird’s condition to not be a jerk birder.
This rare or uncommon bird is that way for a reason… it’s not from around here.
So if it’s out of its range, it’s most likely tired, stressed, confused, or hungry.
It’s trying to find food, figure things out, and rest.
So stay back, give it space, and BE RESPECTFUL to the bird, please!
6. Do Not play bird recordings/calls
This one may tick some people off too, but I’m writing this for the complete welfare, safety, and lives of birds.
Lives? Yes, lives.
If you play a recording of a bird’s calls or songs to try to get it to come out into the open, it’s likely to want to defend its territory.
In doing so, it can be open to predators or leave it’s nest, either long enough for predators to eat eggs or babies or even for good.
It can irritate and completely stress out a bird to hear a bird call or song.
How selfish can we be to confuse or stress a bird out like that just so we can see it or photograph it?
Once again, please don’t be a jerk birder and cause unwanted stress to the bird or cause dead babies.
Have respectful birding etiquette and wait patiently for this bird to come out into the open. If it even wants to.
7. Being loud
Loud talking, shouting, screaming, or loud laughter can scare birds.
This will not only be a bummer to you, who came there to see the bird you just scared away, but I’m sure everyone else would be pretty upset too.
PLEASE respect the bird and all of nature and keep the voices down when out in THEIR world.
And for heaven’s sake, no music, please. Save that for your car.
8. Not respect other birders
Every single birding etiquette tip on this list will not only benefit the birds but other birders.
This goes back to giving them their space, answering questions for beginners who ask, and allowing them to see the bird too.
I know it’s easy to judge a book by its cover. But do you want someone judging you?
And would you want someone crowding you out so you couldn’t see the beloved bird you just drove two hours to see?
Don’t be a jerk birder, be respectful, and keep this birding etiquette in mind, please.
9. Approach a nesting bird
Look, we all want amazing photos of baby birds. But would you like the paparazzi all in your face while you were giving birth, breastfeeding, or otherwise caring for YOUR children?
PLEASE show respect and allow the birds their privacy.
In other words, STAY BACK.
Please keep in mind that some birds will abandon their nest if they are disturbed or if people are continually coming too close with their camera.
Birds don’t understand this. It stresses them out, and they see it as a threat.
I’ve seen this, and I want to slap every single person that does this. And I’m only half-kidding. It’s horrifying to me to witness this or any other broken birding etiquette tips.
I’m usually a person who doesn’t like confrontation, but when I see these things? I respectfully speak up.
PLEASE stay back. Allow the birds to do their jobs, get a couple of photos, and MOVE ON.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer and wouldn’t even need to make the birding etiquette list. Right?
I’ve seen people trample all over someone’s lawns, porches, or otherwise private property just to get closer to a bird.
Just because you think someone isn’t home doesn’t mean you can trespass. It’s rude, it’s invading, and you never know if you’ll be caught on some sort of camera.
Please get permission before going on private property! If not, you might get someone like me who will either let the dogs out to chase you or call the police.
I’m not trying to be a jerk, but how do I know it’s just an eager birder and not someone with ill intent on my property?
11. Not have your phone on silent
Keeping your phone on silent while birding is just the cool thing to do, really.
Hearing someone’s phone ring just as you were getting that perfect shot is super annoying and rude.
Likewise annoying is hearing the dings and noises of a text. So you’re popular today, that’s great, but keep your phone on silent.
Not just for the consideration of other birders, but especially for the respect of the bird. All those noises will only scare it.
This isn’t just a birding etiquette rule; it is a life rule. Please, no littering!! I mean, really, is this beautiful, natural earth our garbage can? NO!!!
Not only can it be harmful to wildlife, but it’s just plain lazy and disrespectful.
All you need to do is take a plastic grocery bag and stuff your garbage in that.
Think about the harm that your garbage could do to birds and wildlife in general.
They could choke on it, get caught in it, or in the case of plastic rings and now masks, get it stuck around their neck or feet.
PLEASE NO LITTERING!
13. Bring your dogs and loud kids
Okay, so I’m sure this one, along with most birding etiquette tips, may ruffle some feathers but follow me here.
You hear about this rare bird and make a 3-hour drive to go see it. You get there, see a handful of birders, and scream inside from excitement.
You quietly reach the small crowd, get your camera ready, get ready to take a beautiful shot, and all of a sudden, someone walks up with their dog. This dog is excited to see people and, of course, scares the bird away. The same exact thing can be said for small children or otherwise loud kids who couldn’t care less about this bird.
I am the biggest animal lover ever. Also, I have three grown sons, and at this writing, five grandchildren. So I get it. I love my animals and family with all of my heart. They are my heart.
But there are just some places I would never bring them not only for the birds’ sake but for others.
For as much as I love my kids, grandkids, and pets, not everyone else does. Especially when they are trying to photograph or see a rare bird.
Now I’ve seen older kids at birding hotspots, but they are SO into it. They are respectful, quiet, and so excited to see the birds. That is fantastic.
Otherwise, please save other events for your kids and pets. Doing so is just a part of birding etiquette 101. 🙂
14. Not move slowly
I’ll never forget being at a birding hotspot for migration, and there was this birder… he was “that guy.”
He basically broke every single one of these birding etiquette tips. He was racing around in the long grass in a high tick area. This dude was practically running to try to get a picture of this bird.
Needless to say, we were all worried about the bird and concerned we would miss our opportunity to photograph it!
People were yelling at him, shaking their heads, and yes, the bird flew deeper into the trees where no one could see it.
We all secretly hoped he had a ton of ticks on him. Haha, so maybe that isn’t nice, but either was he.
He broke every rule in birding etiquette, and we never saw the bird again that weekend.
Quick movements scare birds. It’s part of their instinct to look for fast movement, they see it as a danger, and they flee. End of story.
Move slowly, be calm, be quiet, and make it an excellent experience for yourself and others.
Please don’t be a jerk birder. Ha!
I’m sure you’ve all encountered a person who was breaking at least one of these birding etiquette rules, and it may have even been you at one point.
That’s okay; we’ve all been there, I’m sure, and it’s about moving forward and respecting the bird, the area, and fellow birders.
Are there any other tips you want to share with me or any different experiences you’ve had? Please comment below! Hope this was helpful!