To Playback or Not to Playback

David Allinson goshawk at
Sat Mar 16 08:48:53 PST 2002

Agree with you 100% Mike on this one!

For owling, I take the playback one step further as I have learned to
impersonate them myself (seven species with some "accuracy"). I find I can
get more "creative" to call, tease and squeak in an owl with my own voice!
Furthermore, I find that for species like Virginia Rail, often one will hear
and/or see them anyway with patience even without using a tape (i.e. they
are vocal anyway). Practice using your ears -- I mean that, humans have to
re-learn to L-I-S-T-E-N to nature! I find it more fun to hear an owl without
any tapes or my impersonations. I further agree that the "hunt" and
perseverance is often more rewarding in and of itself. I personally have a
love-hate relationship with those birds on my jinx-list! They keep me going
out into the field.

However, most birds are no doubt used to hearing the calls of neighbouring
birds and are probably not adversely affected by SOME tape playback. Of
course, breeding season tape use should be a definite no-no, and restricted
in other areas with high birder traffic. Finally, the one way around wanting
to use tapes to see secretive/uncommon species is to maximize the
participation level. In other words, gather a group of birders all looking
for same species at same time, instead of going out individually (use
organized field trips in small groups). Indeed, for surveys or CBC's, tapes
tend to get used a lot for good reason.

The one species I feel quite strongly about NOT using tapes is Western
Screech-Owl. They are vulnerable to predation by other owls and hence
caution should be used for them. Here in Victoria, screech's have
dramatically declined due to habitat loss and more significantly by
predation by ever-increasing Barred Owls. They often respond to tapes/calls
long, long after birders have left, opening themselves up to threats.

David Allinson
President, Rocky Point Bird Observatory
572 Atkins Road
Victoria, BC
V9B 3A3
Ph. (250)478-0493

Web site:
273 species and counting!
Look for a bargraph checklist coming soon.

"Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted."
Albert Einstein

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mike Patterson" <celata at>
To: <tulse at>
Cc: <tweeters at>
Sent: Saturday, March 16, 2002 8:28 AM
Subject: Re: To Playback or Not to Playback

> My general feeling about using tape to see birds is simple:


> What's the hurry? You don't get to see 'em one day, then

> you have an excuse to come back the next. I deeply wish

> that we birders could wean ourselves of the have-to-see

> mindset, but that's just one birder's opinion in a rich and

> varied world of birder opinions....


> It took me 20 years to SEE a Northern Saw-whet Owl and I

> have to say that sometimes the trials and tribulations about

> not being able to see a bird make a better story than seeing

> a bird (Sayre saw it fly while I was pointing the flashlight

> the wrong way; we had that little tree surrounded and still

> couldn't find the bloody thing).


> The ABA allows for the inclusion of heard-only birds on

> one's life list so we no longer HAVE to see them. So, I view

> playback as an option to be used judiciously.


> For the most part, tape playback is an issue in areas where

> it's a daily (or hourly) nuisance, so I have used the technique

> to elicit responses from owls and rails for Christmas Counts,

> but only long enough to get the response then I quit. I would

> strongly recommend against the use of playback during breeding

> season for the target species or at parks and refuges.


> --

> Mike Patterson

> Astoria, OR

> celata at



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