Response of Wintering Birds to Simulated Birder Playback and Pishing

Researchers have used playback as an effective survey tool for ornithological research and monitoring, but amateur use is controversial because of potential negative effects on birds. Despite limited peer-reviewed research on this technique, conservation organizations worldwide have limited or banned the use of playback. Some birders use “pishing” (vocal imitation of avian alarm calls) as an alternative to playback. We investigated the effects of simulated birder playback and pishing on the behavior of wintering birds in northern Louisiana. Four experimental treatments were performed at each of six sites: baseline (no birder), control (birder present—no sound), pishing (birder pished five times), and playback (birder played three pre-recorded bird songs). Our order of presentation of each experimental treatment was varied at each site to control for habituation of birds. From hunting blinds, we recorded the behavior of birds during a 45-min observation period split into three 15-min periods: pre-, during-, and post-exposure to experimental treatment. The total number of bird behaviors we recorded differed by site and order of experimental presentation. Some sites had more bird activity than others and the total number of recorded behaviors tended to increase with an increase in the order of presentation. Experimental treatment best explained variance in the repeated factor. Pishing and playback increased vocalization behaviors and decreased foraging and movement behaviors. Pishing also reduced self-maintenance behaviors whereas birder presence reduced vocal activity of birds. Potentially, all of the behavioral changes noted in birds could have negative impacts on wintering birds. Nonetheless, additional work is needed to determine if birds compensated after disturbance ended or if these brief behavioral changes can influence subsequent survival and reproduction. We suggest that resource managers should be judicious with the use of pishing and playback activities at sites during the winter, particularly if birds of conservation concern are present.

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