Sunday, February 1, 2009

Owl Ethics

Ok I don't usually post about stuff like this but I'm going to stick my neck out here. :D 

The subject of some of the recent posts on Wisbirdn have been concerning both ethics and owls. Specifically one Snowy Owl in particular.  
The bird in question has been hanging out in a certain field in Waukesha, WI .  
This bird has been, recently, one of the most photographed birds in the state.  Unfortunately, even though most birders and photographers are very good about keeping their distance, there are always a few people who can't get that perfect shot without having to stand right next to the bird.  Not only that, but some of these same people have been releasing live mice for the Owl to chase just so they can get that "perfect" shot.  

Why must people do this?   Is there some reason that they can't just trust to luck?  
This owl is on it's winter territory. Getting to close causes the owl to flush, wasting valuable energy.  I have heard from several people who have watched birders and photographers walk right out in the field just to get a photo. Is a photo really worth that much? That one has to get super close?  The worst part is a couple of these photographers have had 400-600mm lenses on their cameras.  With a lens like that, you don't need to get that close. Many cameras today also have sufficient megapixels that you can crop down quite a bit without detracting from the quality of the photo.   
Don't these people understand that the bird comes first? and the your photo?  If you get a decent photo fine. but if you can't get one without chasing the bird, then you shouldn't be out there in the first place. 

The ABA's code of ethics is quite a good one to know and remember since most clubs, organizations and other birding groups adopt it. 
Here's the link to it:

So the original debate was about feeding the bird.  There were several legitimate points about this so I'm not going to touch that. What I am going to mention though is exactly WHAT they were feeding the bird.  
The answer? Mice. 
Now, these aren't your typical Wood Mouse or Field Mouse.  These are lab-raised white Mice. 
So why the objection to white Mice?  
First, they aren't the normal, typical type of mouse that a Snowy Owl would eat. 
Secondly, the can and do carry parasites and diseases that wild mice would not. 

Here's what a Milwaukee zookeeper has to say:

"I, like many, are disturbed by the incessant harrassment of this snowy in Waukesha. Being a professional animal care person for the past 18 years, I can assure all of the following:

1. The mice being bought at the pet store and fed to the owl are definitely loaded with parasites. At the Milwaukee County Zoo we freeze captive raised mice/rats for a minimum of two weeks to virtually eliminate all parasites. As far as disease--depending on where these mice came from it is a possibility.

2. Approaching a snowy owl is highly unethical. Physiologically this is taxing on the bird. Yes, the bird may appear "tame" but of course it is not. Forcing a bird to expend energy unnecessarily can and very likely will contribute to its demise.

3. Trespassing??? Doesn't everyone know not to do that! Evidently not. Anyone pursuing this bird in such a manner as baiting and/or approaching it should reevaluate their ethical standards.

Just my two cents.

Mickey O'Connor
Milwaukee County Zoo
Milwaukee, WI"

So there you have it from two people.  Me and Mickey both.  
The White Mice that you get from the local pet store are NOT safe to feed to a Snowy Owl. I don't care why you're doing it. DON'T! 
Seriously, these two actions endanger the life of a beautiful bird.   Plus, as Mickey points out, these people are trespassing on private property.  Really people, don't you know better than that? 

Well, there you have it. That's most of what can be said about this bird and about feeding it stuff it shouldn't be eating.  I could say a lot more about birding ethics but that's for another post at another time. 

End Rant. 

1 comment:

Owlman said...

I'm discussing owl baiting this month and running a poll. I'd love to hear your thoughts: