Peace & Privacy For Birds
by: Mike Lushington  

On January 31st, I found a Great Gray Owl that seemed to be frequenting a cutover woodlot just to the west of where we live in Pt. LaNim. I duly reported finding the bird to interested naturalists in New Brunswick because this is a very rare sighting. In fact it was the first Great Gray reported in the province since 1996. Predictably, my report attracted considerable attention and over the next week or so there was a steady stream of birders into the area, all hoping for a look at the bird.

For that week, the bird proved to be very cooperative. It was perching and hunting in broad daylight, often at a very short distance from the railway spur that goes into Dalhousie, allowing many observers close and lengthy views. It seemed to be a confiding bird; in fact, one local observer opined that the owl was happy to see people around because they kept the ravens and crows from pestering it. Most observers were thrilled to see such a large bird (It is the largest looking owl in North America, although both Snowy and Great Horned Owls will outweigh it) at such close quarters, while still being free to move about as it wanted.

Unfortunately there are always a few so-called birders who are never content merely to look and admire from a distance. It wasn't long after I reported finding the bird that I heard the first of the "stupid actions " stories that give some birders a bad name. Someone was seen repeated trying to approach the bird - to within fifteen feet! - in order to try to get a photo of it. His excuse, apparently, was that he had to keep trying because the darned bird kept moving away and wouldn't sit still for him. I had to think that he was lucky that it was a Great Gray and not a Great Horned, owl, because the latter may very well have taken the camera out of his hand and hit him over the head with it. (Great Horned Owls are notoriously bad-tempered, and aggressive birds.) Other birders started tramping into the surrounding woods, presumably in efforts to flush the bird from its roost during those times when it was not out in the open.

Most naturalists are very aware of the American Birding Association's Code of Behaviour, which stresses that the well-being of the bird is the first consideration, and that hassling behaviour such as chasing or otherwise stressing it is unethical and unacceptable. There are the few, though, who assume that all of the rules and codes are for others, or that wanting to get a good picture is sufficient excuse for all sorts of actions that can be downright detrimental to the bird and extremely distasteful to other, more considerate, birders.

I last saw the owl on the following Monday from when it first appeared - that is, on February 7. I looked for it again on the following couple of days with no luck. As I write, I am not certain where the bird might have gotten to; however I feel reasonably confident that it has survived, and that it has moved on to a place where it might enjoy some peace and quiet. I hope that those who wanted to get a look at it were successful because if I find it again - and I do have some ideas on where to look - I will not be in nearly as much a hurry to advertise its presence. I guess that even stray Great Gray Owls deserve some peace, quiet, and privacy.


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