Feature Image by JarrahTree…commons.wikimedia.org [CC BY 2.5 au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bird watching has become one of the fastest growing outdoor recreational pursuits. However, we often wonder does the act of pursuing birds have any impact on their health? With plenty of bad news about human impacting wildlife around our planet, it is uplifting to have some encouraging news: Bird watching is not harmful to birds!

In one study, researchers placed a predator disturbance – a screech owl and crow decoy along with a recorded call – to various human disturbances, including passively sitting in the bird’s territory, walking through the territory, repeated disturbances at one-hour intervals, and chasing the bird for four (4) hours. You read that right, four (4) hours! The biologists also compared night disturbances versus day disturbances in their territories.


To their revelation, turns out the birds’ feathers were hardly ruffled!

At the beginning of the most intense disturbance, the four-hour chase, and during the one-hour interval disturbances, the birds’ heart rate increased but soon quickly adapted to the disturbance. The birds’ heart rate increased and then lowered during night-time interruptions as well. They apparently awoke, however, showed no signs of moving from their nest or perch. The birds displayed no difference in overall energy expenditure when disturbed compared to when they were not disturbed.

Small but mighty

Findings imply that small birds are capable of rapidly assessing and adapting to intermittent disturbances in their environment. Many researchers hypothesize that because smaller birds have short lives and breed only a few times in their lifetimes, they are better at quickly assessing disturbances and devoting their energy to reproduction – laying eggs and rearing chicks. Whereas, biologists have shown that certain long-lived bird species (geese, penguins etc.), do suffer increased energetic costs from human disturbances.

Get your cameras, your binoculars and spend a day trekking through the wilderness hoping to get a glimpse of those beautiful birds.


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