Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hooray for Mike McDowell

Mike McDowell posted on his splendid blog the tragic story of a lost Burrowing Owl who found temporary refuge in one of my favorite birding hot spots--Montrose Harbor in Chicago--and who was killed by a Cooper's Hawk, most likely after being flushed way too much by birders eager to see the tiny owl. Mike points us to this story in the Chicago Tribune.

I've always been pretty ambivalent about hotline birds--it really is fun to see new species, and many times birders can see them without causing any harm at all. But a crepuscular owl deserves to be left in peace when it turns up in an unexpected place. Of course, I feel hypocritical saying this since I'm one of the many birders who "chased" the Burrowing Owl that turned up in Duluth on May 31, 1997. It was thrilling to see it so far out of its range, but most of the groups that saw it had to flush it to see it. My group (this happened the day of the 1997 Hawk Ridge Birdathon) arrived while another group had it in a spotting scope, so at least it didn't flush on my account, but still. It was never seen after that day, and I always hoped it had moved on to a more appropriate area rather than being eaten or hit by a car as a result of being flushed by acquisitive birders.

Anyway, I've been so limited by work and travel lately that I haven't been able to either chase other people's rarities or find my own. But I'm starting to think that maybe we do need to stop reporting rarities as long as birders are so unwilling to police our own and limit our activities when we can so fatally stress the birds we profess to love.