OPEN PloS one | 23 Oct 2013
JB Harris and DG Haskell
Although recreational birdwatchers may benefit conservation by generating interest in birds, they may also have negative effects. One such potentially negative impact is the widespread use of recorded vocalizations, or “playback,” to attract birds of interest, including range-restricted and threatened species. Although playback has been widely used to test hypotheses about the evolution of behavior, no peer-reviewed study has examined the impacts of playback in a birdwatching context on avian behavior. We studied the effects of simulated birdwatchers' playback on the vocal behavior of Plain-tailed Wrens Thryothorus euophrys and Rufous Antpittas Grallaria rufula in Ecuador. Study species' vocal behavior was monitored for an hour after playing either a single bout of five minutes of song or a control treatment of background noise. We also studied the effects of daily five minute playback on five groups of wrens over 20 days. In single bout experiments, antpittas made more vocalizations of all types, except for trills, after playback compared to controls. Wrens sang more duets after playback, but did not produce more contact calls. In repeated playback experiments, wren responses were strong at first, but hardly detectable by day 12. During the study, one study group built a nest, apparently unperturbed, near a playback site. The playback-induced habituation and changes in vocal behavior we observed suggest that scientists should consider birdwatching activity when selecting research sites so that results are not biased by birdwatchers' playback. Increased vocalizations after playback could be interpreted as a negative effect of playback if birds expend energy, become stressed, or divert time from other activities. In contrast, the habituation we documented suggests that frequent, regular birdwatchers' playback may have minor effects on wren behavior.
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