Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dog-walking - a problem for birds?

Dog walks prompting bird flight

"An Australian team found dog-walking was prompting birds to take flight, causing numbers to plummet by 41%. The researchers, writing in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, said the birds were fleeing because they viewed the dogs as potential predators."

Link: Full Article from BBC News

Dog-walking can adversely affect wildlife

"Dog-walking leads to over 40 per cent reduction in bird abundance and more than 35 per cent reduction in bird diversity in woodlands, according to a study. The researchers say that dogs evolved from wolves as the 'top predators' in many ecosystems, having the tendency to hunt without facing any threat. As per them, the latest findings indicate that wildlife still perceives domestic dogs as a threat."

Link: Full story from Yahoo News

Abstract from Biology Letters:

"Dog walking is among the world's most popular recreational activities, attracting millions of people to natural areas each year with diverse benefits to human and canine health. But conservation managers often ban dog walking from natural areas fearing that wildlife will see dogs as potential predators and abandon their natural habitats, resulting in outcry at the restricted access to public land. Arguments are passionate on both sides and debate has remained subjective and unresolved because experimental evidence of the ecological impacts of dog walking has been lacking. Here we show that dog walking in woodland leads to a 35% reduction in bird diversity and 41% reduction in abundance, both in areas where dog walking is common and where dogs are prohibited. These results argue against access by dog walkers to sensitive conservation areas."

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It will be interesting to see if these findings can be replicated elsewhere. When I'm digiscoping and intend to stay at particular spot for awhile, I always notice that birds initially retreat into the thicket, brush, woods, etc. But eventually, over the course of several minutes, birds return and seem to resume their normal activities (but how would I know?). About the only two species that pay more attention to me than other birds are Black-capped Chickadees and House Wrens – often coming in very close for a quick inspection of the situation. When I ignore them, they go on about their business. Holding my spot, eventually I've observed other people walk by – some with dogs, some without. Though I've never conducted a serious study, I can't say that I've noticed a difference in the way birds behave. In either case, people alone versus with dog, there is an initial retreat with the birds eventually returning to their normal routine. With so many new access points and trails in Pheasant Branch Conservancy, it does make me wonder, especially after reading these articles, if there is (or will be) a long term effect with dog-walking and birds utilizing less habitat near trails.

Black-capped Chickadee © 2007 Mike McDowell

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