Use Caution When Posting Bird Sightings Over Social Media

Tips for Sharing Sightings the Right Way Putting the Bird’s Well-being First

It’s important to think about a bird’s well-being before sharing bird sightings over social media because of the dangers it can bring wildlife.

And as people who love birds, that’s not our intention.

Snowy Owl sightings are one of the most popular among bird watchers
Snowy Owl sightings are one of the most popular among bird watchers

Consider Your Audience

We get excited when we get that “great” photo of the pair of Bald Eagles in their nest, the Osprey plunging into the water catching a fish or the rarity that happens to cross our path.

Or other critters we come across such as red fox, deer, and moose.

Beautiful red fox we spotted during a bird walk in Connecticut
Beautiful red fox we spotted during a bird walk in Connecticut

But we forget that our posts go beyond the need to shine in the spotlight and those people who appreciate birds and nature as much as we do.

There is a dark, nefarious side to geotagging locations in our posts.

Fair Chase

Bird enthusiasts appreciate knowing the location so they can venture out and see the bird in its natural habitat for their enjoyment.

But this same information is being misused by hunters.

Some hunters are using rare bird sightings and killing them for trophies.

This behavior goes against the “fair chase” ethics hunters are taught in state-required hunter education courses.

But hunters are not the only culprits harming wildlife.

Overzealous Photographers and Birders

It pains me to say this because I’ll do just about anything to get a beautiful photo of a bird.

But I know the limits and won’t infringe on the well-being of the bird.

Or harm nature, period.

Overzealous photographers and birders also misuse sightings posted over social media to seek out rare and popular species.

This includes any type of owl, breeding Bald Eagles or just about any rarity.

By getting too close, stressing out and harassing the bird, we are causing harm to our feathered friends.

The Painted Bunting that dropped by Prospect Park in Brooklyn in 2015 quickly became a viral sensation
The Painted Bunting that dropped by Prospect Park in Brooklyn in 2015 quickly became a viral sensation

Instant Access to Bird Sightings

We all can share bird sightings instantly over social media.

And the unwanted attention comes in sudden intense bursts.

Sharing bird sightings has long been a part of birding circles, but this information has never been shared with such immediacy.

And the last thing we want is to cause harm, or at even worse, the death of a rarity due to a surge of interest from a social media post.

Birds Sightings Gone Viral

Some significant bird sightings in the NYC-area have become overnight mainstream news.

And viral sensations.

Like the Painted Bunting in Prospect Park in Brooklyn in 2015.

Bird watchers dropped everything to see the Corn Crake that turned up in NY
Bird watchers dropped everything to see the Corn Crake that turned up in NY

The Corn Crake on Cedar Beach in Long Island, New York.

Birders from all over the U.S. and beyond dropped everything to see this once-in-a-lifetime rarity.  (Unfortunately, the Corn Crake was run over by a car).

And most recently, the Mandarin Duck was the star of Central Park’s duck pond in NYC.

Striking a Balance

Bird enthusiasts enjoy sharing their findings, but there has to be a balance.

According to the Portland Press Herald, Maine wildlife enthusiasts say that people who misuse information posted online to aggressively pursue animals are exceptions.

They acknowledged it’s undeniable that social media has fueled lousy behavior.

In 2017, the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology determined that the excessive use of social media to pursue wildlife could be harmful to some birds.

Cornell Labs asks the thousands of volunteers that contribute data about bird sightings to its online eBird project to stop posting locations within 2 km for “sensitive species.”

This includes birds that are not listed as endangered or threatened but still exist in low numbers.

Birders at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge enjoyed two rarities on one day: Dickcissel (pictured
Birders at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge enjoyed two rarities on one day: Dickcissel (pictured) and a Henslow’s Sparrow

The Right Way to Share Sightings

So what should bird watchers do when sharing information about sighting in a social media post?

I suggest following a rule put forth by the National Audubon Society.

Before publishing or sharing images of rarities, threatened or endangered birds, remove all GPS-embedded data from the picture.

When sharing your photo on social media remember it’s our responsibility to protect sensitive areas and species by refraining from indiscriminately disclosing their location.

Caring Is Not Sharing

Or here’s an even better idea.

Keeping in mind the most important consideration is the well-being of the bird.

Delay sharing your discovery in a posting until the bird is long gone.

Often people share information about rare-bird sighting privately with very few close friends and colleagues.

Snowy Owls cause a stir wherever they are
Snowy Owls cause a stir wherever they are

The bird is best served by not uttering a peep and safeguarding its location to increase public awareness about the sighting.

By merely being generic with the location, not including one at all, or holding on sharing your sighting helps decrease the dangers birds face because of sighting postings.

Birds don’t exist in a digital, plugged-in world like we do.

So let’s not expose them to the perils that technology presents.

Protect birds, and we protect the earth.

Let’s all coexist!

Now get out and see birds!

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