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Moral dilemmas of birding


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I'm in a bit of a philosophical mood and thought I'd share some thoughts I often argue with myself over. All questions asked are rhetorical and intended to provoke more thought, they are not intended to solicit answers, but feel free to share your thoughts.

Should I be feeding the birds in my backyard? I don't intentionally feed any other animal in my yard, so why do birds get treated differently? Throughout almost any park you will see signs that say, 'Don't Feed the Animals', yet many of those same  parks have bird feeding stations, why the exception for birds? Don't get me wrong, I am all for helping out our feather friends and trying to make sure they get a helping hand whenever possible, but I admit to a reluctance of giving insects a helping hand in the same way, even though I know that the birds need those insects to survive. I try to create habitat that is suitable for birds to nest, shelter, and feed in, yet I go out of my way to prevent mosquitos from breeding in a pond built for birds to bath in, when it could easily do both. Helping birds but not helping mosquitos is pretty easy to justify, birds are good and mosquitos are bad, right?... Right???  What about all the other critters that I don't encourage to my yard with free handouts? Should I create somewhere for the local skunks to breed and/or shelter and offer them food to help lessen the impact of habitat loss on their species? Why am I less concerned about the well being of other animals than I am about birds? Am I a speciesist with a bigoted view that favors birds over other wildlife? Should I do more to help the species that I'd rather not be around, or just help the animals that bring me the biggest smile? Or, maybe I should just go and fill my feeders, stop worrying about the affects of feeding or not feeding the animals and just enjoy the birds, and hope something else balances things out for the less popular wildlife? But if I don't think about my affect, good or bad, on the whole ecosystem I want to live in, who will? 🤔

Edited by lonestranger
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Just a point of clarification…I tend to think of “birding” and “feeding birds” as two very different pursuits. Based on the content of your post, I’m assuming you mean feeding birds?

if so…

https://www.fws.gov/story/feed-or-not-feed-wild-birds#:~:text=For birds%2C feeders can aid,into lawns and shopping malls.

https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/feeding-birds-your-backyard

https://www.audubon.org/news/when-its-okay-or-not-feed-birds

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14 minutes ago, DLecy said:

Just a point of clarification…I tend to think of “birding” and “feeding birds” as two very different pursuits. Based on the content of your post, I’m assuming you mean feeding birds?

I  guess I don't differentiate between "birding" and "feeding birds" the way others do. To me they are two tines of the same fork, which for me is watching birds for the sake of enjoyment and knowledge, regardless of where it is done. I don't bird for numbers on checklists but I don't think that defines birding either. Regardless of the definition we use, I wasn't referring to the moral dilemmas of just feeding birds in the subject title, it just so happened that I limited my first post to the aspects of bird feeding. I wasn't prepared to dive into the questions I have about the impact of more and more people chasing birds through the wilderness and how the electronics we use for birding might not be in the best interest of the birds just yet.

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2 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

You've been running over raccoons for the vultures again, haven't you?

Not me, but it happens on my road regularly.

Unfortunately, most of my vehicular killings have involved bird strikes, not trash bandits or other rodents. Ironically, my past two bird strikes occurred while traveling to/from wilderness parks that we were visiting specifically to see more of a variety of birds during spring migration than what we'd see from home. Another moral dilemma I have, besides killing birds with my vehicle, is the pollution my vehicle creates every time I drive to a location to bird, which doesn't happen as often as I'd like but that's for other reasons. When I think about the compound effect of multiple vehicles doing the exact same thing, driving somewhere for personal enjoyment, I question whether my enjoyment is worth the damage it does. I am old enough to remember that the parking lots and visitor centres at some of the parks I visit were once wild spaces that consisted of game trails and narrow pathways where you parked at the side of the road and hiked back into woods to get closer to nature. As more and more people want to get closer to nature, more parking lots and more visitor centres are created to accommodate the growing number of people being encouraged to get in on their own experiences with nature. As those parks become more popular, they drive people to seek out even more remote locations so that they can get closer to nature but away from the crowds of other people that are also trying to get closer nature. The expansion of birding is a great way for more and more people to enjoy nature but the very act of birding can be detrimental to the birds we hope to see just because of the sheer numbers. More birders means more vehicles on the road chasing birds and more pollution. More vehicles also means more parking will be required. More parking means more habitat loss and more people exploring the less explored areas means less undisturbed natural settings. I could go on and on but the moral dilemma remains, is my personal enjoyment worth the harmful effects it can cause, and what about the compound effects? A trail hiked once a week can go unnoticed for years, if not decades. A trail hiked once a day may go unnoticed for months if not years. A trail hiked by dozens of people a day will likely get noticed quickly. A trail hiked by hundreds of people a day will have enough cars parked at the trailhead that a parking lot will be required, and the pathway will be so wide that you can walk the trail with friends on either/both sides of you. Yes, I do believe there is a compound effect to almost everything we do, and that is why I no longer encourage others to hike those lesser known trails that I hiked in my youth. Oh wait, I guess it's already too late to do anything about that, those lesser known trails are now roadways that lead to parking lots where you can drive right up and buy souvenirs while you bird right at the visitor centres. 

Now before I piss off the masses more than I already have, I am not saying that birding is a bad thing, I am merely stating that I sometimes think about the negative effects our collective hobby may have.

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I have thought about similar things.  Attracting birds with feeders, etc., doesn't concern me as much as seeking out birds.  I know you don't use eBird, but eBird bothers me for multiple reasons and one of those reasons is that it shows everyone where those lesser known trails are.  If you hide the location from the public, the data isn't used.  And I believe there are some birders that are birding for the wrong reasons and I think eBird has a lot do to with that.

At the same time we are doing a lot for research and conservation and eBird is a great tool. :classic_wacko:

Edited by The Bird Nuts
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1 hour ago, The Bird Nuts said:

I know you don't use eBird, but eBird bothers me for multiple reasons and one of those reasons is that it shows everyone where those lesser known trails are.

Sharing data through electronics is something I still struggle with. The instant alerts that notify birders of where rare birds show up is great for the birder looking for that elusive next tick on their list, but how good is it for the rare bird when more and more people chase it from place to place. The more elusive that rare bird is, the more desire there is to find it, and the further people are willing to go when chasing it, both on the road and off the trail. I am as guilty as the next person, I want to see new, unfamiliar birds and eventually that means I will have to look elsewhere. I could always wait for wayward birds to come to me, or start chasing the more elusive birds in my area, but I suspect I'd just argue with myself that chasing elusive birds is probably not what elusive birds really want/need.

Edited by lonestranger
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These are complicated issues for sure.

As far as feeding birds, I think one big difference between that and feeding other wildlife is that in the case of other animals feeding them very often endangers the animals and/or humans. Feeding bears makes them habituated to people and more likely to attack them or vandalize their property, which then causes them to need to be euthanized. Similar situation for other animals. Feeding squirrels and raccoons could also increase the spread of rabies to humans and domestic animals. Feeding some animals may allow them to reproduce and thrive beyond what the environment supports. 

We people are going to have an impact on the environment and wild animals; it's simply impossible to avoid, and probably not a good goal anyway. We are another species that lives on Earth and we have the right to meet our needs too. We can have positive as well as negative effects on other species. If we discourage people from visiting wild areas they won't tend to be as protected; mostly people don't want to preserve wild areas to keep people out of them, but to be able to visit them. If we don't interact with wildlife to some extent we won't be motivated to protect and preserve it. 

I guess finding the balance is the key here. If we feed birds we need to be responsible about it, feed appropriate food, keep the feeders clean, etc. If we go out to look at birds we need to do our best to not disturb them. Everyone's answer to how to do that will be different, but it's worth discussing and trying to reach the balance; but it's kind of like all of life - you struggle to reach the goal knowing you'll never be finished with it. 

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6 hours ago, aveschapinas said:

As far as feeding birds, I think one big difference between that and feeding other wildlife is that in the case of other animals feeding them very often endangers the animals and/or humans. Feeding bears makes them habituated to people and more likely to attack them or vandalize their property, which then causes them to need to be euthanized. Similar situation for other animals. Feeding squirrels and raccoons could also increase the spread of rabies to humans and domestic animals. Feeding some animals may allow them to reproduce and thrive beyond what the environment supports. 

This.

Until this I don't think anybody was really hitting on the main question/issue/contradiction that lonestranger was raising. I think aveschapnias hit the nail on the head, though.

Feeding songbirds may "allow them to reproduce and thrive beyond what the environment supports" as well, it just doesn't raise the same issues that it does with other animals. At least not in any way that is directly apparent.

 

 

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