Twitter is turning birds into celebrities and birders against one another

NEW YORK — In 2018 it was the Mandarin duck. In October it was the barred owl. Just weeks ago it was the snowy owl.

All three avian species catapulted to celebrity status after they landed in Central Park, becoming the subject of news reports from Manhattan to India and attracting gaggles of groupies, snapping away on their smartphones.

These rare glimpses of nature in the heart of New York elicit a dose of joy in the best of times. But those feelings of uplift are magnified during the pandemic, when so many people are seeking respite in the outdoors.

Behind these idyllic encounters with nature, however, a vigorous debate is roiling the city’s birding community.

On one side are people eager to broadcast these flying visitors on social media, which they say allows birders to catch a glimpse of species they might otherwise never see.

On the other are birders who believe that indiscriminately publicizing the locations of sensitive birds attracts hordes of gawkers, who can disturb the animals, and violates the serendipitous aspect of birding.

Perhaps the most prominent of the avian paparazzi is David Barrett, whose Manhattan Bird Alert account on Twitter, which has more than 42,000 followers, has turned birds into boldfaced names.

“The main attraction of the account is the high level of bird photography and videography, but serious birders still do get their rare bird alerts,” Barrett said, adding that his account helped “make everyone’s birding more effective.”

But to Ken Chaya, president of the Linnaean Society of New York, one of the city’s oldest birding organizations, Barrett’s account seems focused more on self-promotion than protecting birds.

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“There’s a fine line between sharing information about a sensitive bird and creating a flash mob,” Chaya said, adding that when you have tens of thousands of followers, “you can’t know all of them or how they behave.”

Barrett’s account also shares content from a contentious figure in local birding circles: Robert DeCandido, who leads bird walks around New York.

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DeCandido’s critics claim that he harasses birds by luring them closer with recorded bird calls and by illuminating owls during nighttime excursions.

Debbie Becker, who for about 30 years has led her own bird walks in the New York Botanical Garden, described using recorded bird sounds as “extremely detrimental to the birds.”

“He’s playing a distress call,” Becker said, adding, “It’s like someone yelling ‘Help me!’ ”

But DeCandido …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Sports


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