The Technology & Ethics of Reporting Bird Sightings

The following post includes ruminations and ideas emerging as I analyze the data collected for my PhD dissertation focusing on the act of birding. It doesn’t represent a final thought or particular endpoint: these are ideas in progress. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of my ideas, too.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Peppysis

Sharing sightings

Birders, according my research, have embraced the Internet for information about birds. This includes general information about birds (websites such as Cornell’s All About Birds were mentioned by birders) but it would seem that the Internet is seen most importantly as a conduit of bird sightings. I conducted my research in Ontario, speaking with Ontario birders. When I would ask how birders decided where to go on a particular day, birders would often cite the Ontario Field Ornithologist’s (or OFO, for short) ONTBIRDS listserv as a source of information (often the primary source) for sightings.

Sharing bird sightings isn’t a new practise in birding. When I was a child visiting my grandparents, I remember the phone ringing, my grandparents answering and getting the latest news that species X had been seen at location Y. As members of the local field naturalist club, they were part of a telephone tree that spread news about rare bird sightings. After they collected the information, they would then call the two people “below” them in the tree. I imagine that in short order, the information about the birds was disseminated.

So the practise hasn’t changed. But the technology has. Before I talk about the implications of this, I want to bring in another thread into this conversation.