Secrets in birding

Charles Kahle charlesk at
Wed Mar 6 15:28:50 PST 2002

Dear all,

This is an important discussion and I appreciate everyone who is
contributing to make it a good one. In the case of the Painted Bunting, and
many others, the Seattle Audubon Society is on the front lines. When
members of the community have bird questions, problems or want to report
unusual bird sightings they often call Seattle Audubon and talk to one of
our volunteers who answer our phone.

Seattle Audubon does have a set of procedures for our volunteers to follow
when unusual bird reports come in. I am reviewing those now to make sure
that they are current and consistent with the needs of our members and the
community. Hence, your thoughts and conversations are useful.

As with any situation, how to handle rare/unusual bird reports is not black
and white. Lots of judgment and experience need to be used to evaluate a
situation and decide how to proceed. The ABA's Code of Birding Ethics is a
great starting point ( Often
however you quickly move into trying to figure out shades of gray (like
trying to puzzle through Gull ID's) as you try to decide to keep something
"secret" or make it "public".

I want the public to feel comfortable calling in reports of birds and asking
questions. Both documenting sightings for scientific purposes as well as
educating and sharing information with the birding community are important.
One concern I have is that once the public learns of any bad experience with
reporting unusual birds they may be hesitant to report sightings in the
future, then we all lose. Thus, I might be more conservative than the next
person when faced with a decision like this.

By and large I think the birding community as a whole does an excellent job
of maintaining a great code of ethics. In this era of increased concerns
for privacy, security and overall population growth there are more and more
opportunities for conflict. Not to mention what seems to me to be an
increased number of unusual bird reports.

Regarding the Painted Bunting in particular, I happened to be one of the
first to be called after the Capital Hill sighting was reported to Seattle
Audubon. After talking to a few individuals at WOS (who have far more
experience with rare bird reports than I have), the individuals who reported
the sighting and verifying that the report was correct, it was decided that
this be kept "secret". This is the only time I have ever been on the
"inside" of a secret bird sighting, it was not an easy choice. Others of
course, see this situation differently and I respect that.

It would be interesting to hear from those who know, how many bird sightings
are kept secret each year vs. how many are made public. Is this a large or
growing number?

Thanks to everyone who keeps birding fun, educational and adds to our pool
of scientific knowledge.

Charles Kahle
President, Seattle Audubon Society
Seattle, Wa

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