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Monday, December 20, 2004

Boreal Owl in Central Park

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

A rare Boreal Owl was located in Central Park yesterday. Some people may think that I'm overreacting, but I was extremely dismayed when two discussion group moderators posted directions to the roost. It has always been considered bad birding ethics to give directions to an owl roost but I suppose their excitement won out over good sense and a little planning. With a bit of organization I think it could have been a great opportunity to teach birding ethics, as well as, the behavior and habits of a rare bird.

click for The ABA's "Principles of Birding Ethics"

click to see Cal Vornberger's photos"

I contacted Bill Lane, an owl biologist, who replied with the following:

Hi Rob,

Thanks for the message. I suspect the boreal in central park will be in for some serious scrutiny. That can be good and that can be bad. Good, because it increases the public's awareness about owl biology and population patterns and habitat and our shrinking environment. Bad, because one overzealous birder can leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

Given my biologic background etc., I am always discrete about owl sightings and/or owl locations. In nearly 2 decades with boreals, I know enough about their behaviors to suggest the following: if the bird is in a roosting posture (i.e. daylight, sleeping, oblivious to the big apple) observers can do their thing without too much impact on the owl. People should be encouraged to observe away from the bird...which will give all an opportunity to field test and brag about their binocs and scopes. If however, the owl is hunting diurnally, then any undue disturbance can have severe impacts on the survivability of the owl. Diurnal hunting by a nocturnal species is a sign of metabolic distress. Leave the owl alone, or throw it a mouse and then leave it alone (good luck on that one in nyc).

And, yes, you are right in interpreting the birder's explanation about the owl. My experience is that an opportunity at a rare species has many birders rationalizing or justifying their own behaviors, including trespassing, poor discipline, and poor ethics. At that point, we get into human behavior which ultimately, trumps owl behavior and birding decorum. Not all birders, mind you, but one is enough.

Finally, boreals typically do not roost in the same tree (at least in the boreal forest) with any regularity. Therefore, finding the owl likely won't be automatic and may give the bird and concerned birders, some relief.

Please keep me posted on how things develop.


click to go to the Owl Man's website"

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