Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: As Spring Arrives a Reminder to Keep Up On Our Birding Ethics


Do Not Disturb!

Do Not Disturb!  (Credit: Rich Brown)


A while back I had a well-intentioned person contact me regarding a newly discovered eagles nest.  “Don, the eagles are so excited to see me they are showing off by flying around the nest and screeching,” they said. As I tried my best to keep from creating my own ear-piercing sounds of stress I managed to calm myself down for a few seconds and asked the caller to PLEASE get away from the nest area.

I attempted to explain that he was stressing the birds out and could possibly cause them to abandon the nest. His answer was “No, they really like us.” Now, besides this person being in violation of the Bald Eagle protection act , the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and various other state and federal laws, a simple understanding of the birding ethics rules may have just stopped him from committing this infraction to begin with. So I thought it was a good time to remind all of us that the first rule of birding. much like the Hippocratic Oath, is to do no harm.

As we enter the most amazing time in birding, nesting and migration season, birds more than any other time of year need to be protected and kept safe from needless stress especially ones that are brought on by humans, well intentioned or otherwise.  Migratory birds as well as our year-round residents have it very tough. Window strikes, habitat loss, stray cats, lack of food and water sources, climate change, the list goes on. The last thing we want to do is to interfere with the lifecycle of birds that have fought so hard, through so many obstacles, and traveled so many miles to be the reason  that it does not survive the day.

But there are a few simple things we can remember to avoid to be sure we and the birds have a good day outdoors for all concerned.

  • “Keep a safe distance when observing or photographing birds, especially near nests” – Getting too close and spending too much time near nesting birds can cause them to abandon the nest or cause the young to come out of the nest too soon. It also could interrupt getting enough food to their nestlings. Birds do not want to approach the nest if you are watching them. This is a way they avoid showing predators where their nest is, so keep a safe distance, take a look and move on quickly.
  • Avoid posting and telling people about the location of endangered species and where the nest of any bird may be located.”
    • This is especially true when it comes to threatened and endangered species and all owls. Owls are birds that need to rest during the day and hunt at night. It would be like me keeping you up all night and then expecting you to work all day .. it usually does not go well.
  • Avoid playing calls in the field.
    • Birds spend all their time feeding their young and defending their territory. If birders are playing calls birds will be not doing their job of feeding the youngsters and defending against predators and rivals. And besides, I don’t want to hear a call that makes me run down the trail just to find its another birder playing an APP. It won’t go well – I promise.
  • There are other rules too, like staying on designated trails, keeping your feeders and birdbaths clean and respecting public property …topics for another day.

Spring is a wonderful and incredible time to be outside for all nature lovers, especially birders, by respecting our passion for birds and keeping in mind that the birds themselves are more vital than us getting a closer look or a perfect photograph. This will teach the next generation the right way to enjoy birding and that we are doing no harm to the future of birding and especially to the birds we love so much.

For more information on the American Birding Association’s Principles of Birding Ethics, go to

4 thoughts on “Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: As Spring Arrives a Reminder to Keep Up On Our Birding Ethics

  1. Adaria A

    Don, did you ever get through to that person who thought they were being greeted by the eagles?
    I certainly hope they heard you and stepped the heck back and did no farther harm.

    1. Don

      Hi Adaria I never heard from the again but I can tell you it was a continuing at that nest site with people getting much too close


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