Monday, December 26, 2016

Ethics of LEOW Roosts

A snoozy Long-eared Owl

You’re probably familiar with the story – someone discovers a Long-eared Owl winter roost site and shares the sighting (usually with photographs) on social media, and eventually people begin privately requesting the specific location from the discoverer. Birders are a sharing lot by nature and it’s difficult to keep owls a secret, especially when under immense pressure from other birders and photographers to reveal the roost location.

As a species of special concern in Wisconsin, here’s what Wisconsin Bird Conservative Initiative has written about Long-eared Owl roosts from their ethical standards:
"Please do not closely approach these roosting birds, as doing so may cause them to abandon the roost site, which may adversely affect their winter survival. Please do not report roosting locations on online birding networks."
But eventually the person who reported the owls caves to the pressure and reveals the location to a few people, often under an agreement of sworn secrecy not to share it. Invariably, new photographs of the owls begin appearing on social media and the cycle begins anew. Before too long the owls are receiving regular visitors and we’ve compromised the very ethical guideline established by various birding organizations to protect these owls. In the worst case, the owls eventually abandon the roost site from repeated disturbances.

What to do:

  • If you find a Long-eared Owl roost, please don’t report it to listservs or social media networks.
  • If you encounter a post about Long-eared Owls on the Internet, don’t ask for the roost site location.
  • Here’s how to report sensitive species to eBird.

If you bird long enough, eventually you will encounter Long-eared Owls in the wild all on your own, and what an amazing experience it will be!

Long-eared Owl © 2016 Mike McDowell

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