Bird tours with ethics

by | Nov 10, 2019 | Bird News, Conservation Projects | 0 comments

On Echidna Walkabout Bird Tours, ethics is top priority.

Seeing as many birds as possible, and seeing them well, is a close and very important second. But on a bird tour, as on any tour, ethics can only be number one. Because nothing should ever be allowed to erode integrity and principles.

Does this mean you’ll see fewer birds on our tours? No. You might even see more. This article will explain why.

red goshawk bird tour ethics


The ethics of bird tours cover many areas: ethics towards the birds; ethics about conservation; ethics about local communities; respect for travellers; and ethics towards future visitors.

Ethics towards the birds

Birds are magnificent wild creatures doing their best to make a living in a harsh world. We rejoice in their beauty, their colour, their calls, their natural behaviour. All this comes from the pressure of natural selection: the finest and fittest survive.

bird tour ethics taking time to watch magpie geese from a distance


To ensure nature’s process continues we should not do anything that reduces the fitness of an individual bird, and thus the species.

Harassment of nesting birds, or birds with dependent chicks, is not allowed on any of our tours. We keep groups back at a respectful distance. Read BirdLife Australia’s Ethical Birding Guidelines

We work with mammals a lot, and we take it as a rule to never get too close to wild animals.  The same really applies to birds.  Some birds fly easily and won’t let you get too close, but some birds are reluctant to fly, for instance Superb Lyrebirds Menura novaehollandiae, Cape Barren Geese Cereopsis novaehollandiae and Black Swans Cygnus atratus.   As with mammals, if a bird has to move away from you, you are too close.  Why you should keep a respectful distance from wildlife. 

Cape Barren Goose grooming Melbourne Australia


We don’t approach shorebirds too closely as they need every bit of feeding and resting time they can get.

We limit the use of call playback (playing audio recordings of a bird’s call) and pishing. While we don’t think it is the biggest challenge birds face, limiting callback leaves the birds to their natural behaviour and is ethical towards other travellers. We don’t use it if the bird is showing well and/or there are many others of the same species to see. We might use audio playback if a difficult-to-see bird is not showing due to undergrowth and after we have waited a bit. We will play a call once or twice, at a volume lower than the bird’s own call. For many travellers, seeing a special bird has such a long term positive impact that this little disturbance, used sparingly, is justified.  Read about recommended use of audio recordings in birding here.

Red-necked Avocets endemic Australian shorebird


Ethics about environmental conservation

Birds are only here because the environment supports them. We must all support the environment if we wish birds to be around for future generations to enjoy, and to provide ecosystem services the planet needs.

Echidna Walkabout are strong believers in wildlife and environmental conservation activities and include some on every tour. On the Wildlife Journey we remove Ghost Nets or do a beach clean. On the Great Ocean Road and Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD we remove an invasive weed. On the Wildlife Journey, Mungo Outback Journey and Wild Top End we submit every bird, mammal and reptile sighting to eBird or iNaturalist to contribute to citizen science. We are strong advocates for action on climate change – which is the single biggest threat to birds.

Read our position statement on climate change here. 

Superb Lyrebird bird tour ethics

We also donate, share and promote bird conservation campaigns. Donations made to bird conservation in 2019:

This is in addition to the work of our own environmental conservation not-for profit Koala Clancy Foundation, which has coordinated over 1,800 local volunteers to remove weeds in 2019 and planted over 8,000 native trees since 2017.

tree planting by community groups You Yangs region


Ethics about local communities

The people who live near a bird site deserve to be respected and receive benefit from our visit. After all they have helped create the environment that means the birds are there. Healthy nature exists because local people have protected it. 

All our tour accommodations are locally-owned, and we almost always stay more than one night at the same property, which means double or triple the economic benefit of a one-night stay. Our meals are taken or catered by local cafes, supporting local jobs.

Example: Locally-owned accommodation and catering on Mungo Outback Journey, 4 day private tour in north-west Victoria and south-west New South Wales.

Day 1: overnight at Two Rivers Motel, Wentworth. Meals at the Jackpot Bakery and Crown Hotel, Wentworth

Days 2 & 3: overnights at Mungo Lodge. Meals at or by Mungo Lodge, and Buronga Bake, Buronga.


Respect for our travellers

When you travel, you are on holiday / vacation. That means different things to different people, but many travellers want some time to relax in a beautiful place with wonderful wildlife.

Bird Tour guide with emus Mungo


So staying two or three nights at the same accommodation makes sense. Stopping for a bit longer at a great bird site for a coffee, and pulling out a few chairs, makes sense. Often it is then that the rare bird shows up!

Example: On the Wildlife Journey in East Gippsland we usually finish the day with sundowners (gin & tonic) at Salmon Rocks beach, at Cape Conran. Years ago, I was sitting there relaxing with some travellers as the sun went down at one of the most pristine and beautiful coastlines in the world when a movement caught my eye. Across the path hopped a Pilotbird Pycnoptilus floccosus . Then another, and another.

We have since seen them several times in this location at this time of day. Normally a bird heard more than seen, Pilotbirds seem to gain courage as the light ebbs, and will hop around in the open, quite unconcerned.

Pilotbird East Gippsland


Ethics towards future visitors

All future visitors deserve to have the same opportunity to see a bird as we do. No-one, tour operator, tourist or local, should leave a place worse off than they found it.

So we must not do anything that will spoil a future sighting for others. For instance, if a bird tour group were harassing a bird on a nest, or destroying habitat, or using excessive loud playback, and another group came along 10 minutes later – would the bird still be there?

On our bird tours we consider the welfare of both current and future visitors and stick to our code of ethics.


Benefits of ethics on bird tours.

We learn a lot about bird behaviour from spending a bit more time with them, making it more likely that we will find that bird next time. Spending more time is also good for our travellers. Spending more time means staying longer in local communities, bringing more economic benefit. It also limits fuel use because our travelling is reduced.

Example: On a recent Maximum Wildlife tour in the Northern Territory, we visited a great bird site near Timber Creek with local guide Trav from Gecko Canoeing & Trekking. We arrived early, with the intention of staying an hour or so. It started well, with Gouldian, Long-tailed & Masked Finches the first birds seen. We loved it so much we pulled out some chairs and had a coffee beside a flowering Coral Tree – lucky we did, because Singing, Grey-headed & Grey-fronted Honeyeaters showed up. After 3 hours we started packing up, reluctantly. Roger went for one last quick walk, and found 30 Budgerigars just as I heard a Golden-backed Honeyeater. In total we were at this one site for four amazing hours and saw 42 species. eBird checklist


Staying longer in a small town brings economic benefit to that town that is directly linked to wildlife conservation. The local people get to know us, and will often come to us with their on-the-spot sightings.

Example: Host Glenn at Snowy River Homestead in Orbost is a life-long bird lover. He grew up in Orbost learning about birds, their eggs and nests, and knows everyone in town. We stay with Glenn and Sue for 3 nights at their marvelous lodge. Recently on a Wildlife Journey we looked hard to find Polly, the Powerful Owl at Buchan, but with no luck. On our return that evening, Glenn asked about her, and sadly we reported our failure. Unknown to us, the next day Glenn went out of his way to scout for another Powerful Owl that roosted occasionally nearby. When we returned at lunchtime for our siesta, he stopped us in the driveway, told us to follow him to the bottom of the hill…. and there she was. A magnificent female Powerful Owl.

Powerful Owl female ethical bird tour


Join us on a Bird Tour if you want to enjoy seeing a lot of beautiful Australian birds, ethically. You will also see a lot of mammals and reptiles too.

Rainbow Pitta Kakadu bird ethics



BirdLife Australia Migratory Shorebirds Factsheet:

Sibley Guides USA Ethical use of playback:

BirdLife Australia Ethical Birding Guidelines:

See similar posts: