Re. Painted Bunting- STOP

David Chelimer david_lynne at
Tue Mar 5 21:15:17 PST 2002

Tweeters: Steve's letter hasn't gotten the responses he expected, at least
not publicly. I suspect it's because of the respect we hold for him and
because it's so well written. Yet I can't let the opportunity pass to tell
you how I feel about all this. My comments are marked with an "X" before
each paragraph. Thanks,

David Chelimer
david_lynne at

Greetings All

This is undoubtedly going to unleash a firestorm. I will post this and will
keep my mouth shut unless the homeowners ask me to post again. Also, I have
some comments about rarities committees and wild vs. escape. So, even if you
are extremely angry, you may want to read on.

The homeowners have requested that people stop coming to view the bunting.
It was their expressed desire from the beginning to have very few people
view the bird, and they agreed to this mostly from their desire to have it
documented. A few extra (very few) had been allowed to visit. They now
clearly view all of this as a mistake.

Several arguments will be made
1) We're not tresspassing, so who cares what they think? This may be legally
correct, but in my opinion not morally so. Put yourself in their position.

X - O.K. I'll try to do that. A sort of reverse eminent domain: "I buy a
house adjoining public land and, by maintaining that land, think it's mine
and that I have the right to choose just who may and who may not use it."
Sorry. That just won't cut it. Public land is just that, and if I and others
enjoy it without violating your rights or local ordinances, that's your
tough luck. Just because you mow the lawn it doesn't mean it belongs to you.

2) How come only a few PRIVILEGED people get to see it. That's not fair --
I've certainly been on the unprivilged end of that stick more often than the
privileged end. By and large, I've wished it was otherwise, but I've
accepted it as necessary. If we want homeowners to say anything about birds
on their property in the future, we will respect their wishes now. If you
knew hundreds of people would show up in your yard (or barely outside of
it), would you publicize it? Would you advise your friend to do so?

X - Certainly. Believe me, if I had a bird as rare and beautiful as the one
we're talking about, you bet I'd be happy to show it off. How often do I get
the opportunity to make so many people so happy without it costing me a
dime? I am reminded of the folks in Gibsons, B.C. who had the Xantu's
Hummingbird at their feeder, and their generosity. And, at worst, the cost
to me is seeing some people with binoculars off to one side of my house.

3) Birders are a nice group of people. What's wrong with us coming by? Yes,
we are in general an exceptionally nice group of folks. But large numbers
are a hassle and an invasion, even if they are the most polite of folks.

X - Yup. A very nice bunch, most birders. And certainly the ones I saw on
site this past weekend. There was no double parking, blocking driveways or
any behavior I might have felt ashamed of. We came to see a rarity fifty
feet from where we stood. Politeness aside, is it likely we were going to
spook it by being noisy? Of course not. From speaking to neighbors and from
my own observation, there was no "invasion," no busloads of people running
riot; no more than six or eight people there at any given time - and of
course, this was in broad daylight. It was a lot less disturbing to the
neighborhood than a few kids playing in the street or in someone's yard

4) This is in the name of science. Once the bird is well documented, very
little more is added.

X - I can't comment on this, since it's not a line I've ever heard a birder
say with a straight face.

5) This may be an inspiration to new birders -- there are plenty of other
cool birds to inspire new folks. I doubt this one bird would make the

X - Why not? It 's how I got hooked many years ago. How better to get
started birding than to see this gorgeous bird in the middle of a big city?

Soooooo, I plead with the birding community, as a group of nice folks, I ask
you to respect the wishes of the homeowners and many of their neighbords,
and stop going to see the Painted Bunting. Please.

X -No.Sorry, but that still doesn't cut it. What I have seen (on the first
weekend after the news got out) is small groups of very quiet, polite people
walking on public property to look at a bird which was also mostly on public
land. Yes, it did fly, from time to time, to the feeder at the house in
question. And, yes, we did look at it there. I think the homeowners, had
they felt this was threatening, might have had the common sense to pull the
shade next to the feeder down or to move the feeder from public view. Or,
they might have taken their case directly to us by posting some sort of
sign, alerting us to how they felt about our presence.

I know this will make some people extremely angry. I am sorry for that. We
will have to agree to disagree.

X -No, I'm not extremely angry; more disappointed that my neighbors (I live
nearby) feel this way. As I see it, the only possible harm done is that the
grass (again, on public property) is packed down a bit. But, given a little
time and the amount of dog poop present there, that lawn will be as good as
new. Yes, I'm very disappointed in these people. They have changed "Not in
my back yard" to "Not in my side yard," but the same sentiment applies. Are
they going to tell their daughter, when she grows up, that once she saw a
beautiful bird at their feeder, but that her parents didn't want to share
her vision with others? All we have missing here is a hearty "Bah! Humbug."

X - I plan on going back tomorrow, weather permitting, to see if the bird is
still around. I will be as quiet as I've been on my other visits and will
respect everyone's property, just as I expect the homeowners' respect for my
right to be there on my (public) property.
(End of my comments.)

Now, regarding rarities committees

Birds are not suspects in a criminal trial. Neither are the observers
(though sometimes it feels that way!). A Cockatiel is automatically assumed
to be an escape. I don't think anyone would disagree with that unless a
large breeding colony is suddenly discovered in Ballard. On the other end of
the spectrum, a Red-necked Stint would automatically assumed to be wild,
unless there was something extraordinarily weird about the bird.

Now, for the inbetweens. We accept all Tufted Ducks as wild, assuming no
bands are visible, etc. Tufted Ducks are kept in captivity, and likely, a
couple of the WA records involve escapees. But these are few enough not to
disturb the overall pattern of occurrence. Painted Buntings are not so
clear. Yes, they are not legal to keep in captivity, but it still happens.
And they are perfect. Gorgeous, sing well, and eat seed (ie, easy to keep
alive). California has adopted the approach of accepting most females and
immatures, and rejecting most males (more likely to be kept in captivity)
excepting those seen at peak season. California is, of course, much closer
to the Mexican border where Painted Buntings are common in captivity.
Interestingly, there are a number of records of from the east coast during
winter, including some of adult males. We will be looking into these
patterns re: this winter's bunting in WA.

I am inclined to accept the bunting as it seems reasonable that a fall bird
headed north up the coast might stay to winter and be found later on.

Best Wishes to all
Steve Mlodinow

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