Birdwatching a wonderful activity to experience nature and it drives many scientific and conservation efforts. Nonetheless, it can have negative impacts on birds and other wildlife, and the standards set out in BirdLife Australia's Ethical Birdwatching Guidelines help reduce these impacts.
Birdwatching is an excellent example of how to enjoy nature without causing harm. Birders should keep an appropriate distance from all birds they observe, noting that some species are highly prone to disturbance, while others approach a quiet observer on their own accord.
Disturbing birds when they’re feeding, roosting or nesting can cause stress or expose them to stress, predation or nest failure. Exercise restraint and caution when you’re watching, photographing, recording or filming birds. In sensitive areas, if you can, use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover, or stay on formed paths; birds are stressed less by people who remain in consistent areas such as established pathways.
If species with highly camouflaged eggs or chicks are present, you may not even be aware of their presence, so avoid approaching adults of these species during the breeding season, as you may inadvertently disturb or harm unseen eggs or young.
Avoid using bright white spotlights. Spotlighting disturbs birds at rest and may interfere with the night vision of nocturnal species. Using a spotlight near a nest may also cause birds to abandon it or the young to fall out. Consider using infrared binoculars or thermal imaging instead.
With advances in smartphones and bird guide apps with bird calls, the use of call playback is now readily available. It is important to recognise that call playback can cause distress to target birds and other nearby species, or disrupt their feeding or breeding. As a rule, BirdLife Australia does not support the use of call playback for recreational birdwatching or photography.
Drones should not be used, as they may cause extreme disturbance.
If you come across a bird on the ground (especially a young bird), it is almost always better to leave it in peace to recuperate or be attended by its parents. However, if you come across an injured or young bird which needs your help, only touch it if you intend taking it to a wildlife carer or vet, or are returning a chick to its nest. This applies especially to precocial chicks, such as lapwings. You should never touch these chicks; instead, leave the area immediately so the parents can return to attend their young.
If you find a bird in harm’s way, first try to ease it to safety, such as shepherding it off the road. If you must pick it up, hold it gently around its body – never by its wings, legs or head – and never put pressure on its chest. Read our guide on what to do if you find a sick or injured bird.
Your observations, especially standardised and repeat surveys from the same location, generate valuable data for BirdLife Australia’s vital conservation work. Using Birdata, you can also be sure that sensitive species stay safe, as Birdata automatically prevents disclosure of location data for them. Birdata also lets you set records as private (e.g. on private property).
When you’re out birdwatching, you may observe issues affecting the survival of birds and their habitat (such as illegal logging). To report these incidents, please contact us.
When photographing birds, avoid taking photos near nests (or if you suspect a nest is nearby), core territories or favourite feeding or drinking sites. Do not use call playback, intense flash or spotlights. BirdLife Australia’s annual photography awards do not accept photos taken with the aid of playbacks, intense flashes or spotlights, or photos taken near nests.
BirdLife Australia’s work focuses on ensuring the natural environment provides sufficient food for birds to make artificial feeding unnecessary. However, we acknowledge that feeding birds is a major way that many people engage with them, and can even be necessary in extreme situations.
Appropriate food should be provided for each species in a hygienic way, safe from predators and without attracting and supporting pests.
Feeding Australian native birds must always be done in accordance with local or state government regulations.
You can look after bird habitats in many different ways while birdwatching: