Some payback from playback?

So what’s the situation with playback to attract birds in Spain?

Using playback with bird calls – yes? No? How?

Recently we received a respectful enquiry into the use of playback to attract birds to the observer in Spain. This is the answer we gave (with some light editing for public viewing):

I’m not sure if anything specific has been legislated about playback that doesn’t pertain to the category of “disturbance of protected species” and “protected areas”. Basically if a countryside warden or police officer can consider that you are bothering or causing disturbance to a protected species then you could be in trouble.

Mind you, I’ve had a couple of run-ins with over-zealous countryside wardens who were attempting to vilify me on completely nonsensical grounds – like just for being there with optics, and nothing at all to do with playback – and their stance went a little wobbly-kneed when they received my spirited reply founded mostly on common sense.

You would probably not be in a position to do the same, so I would err on the side of caution: do not use playback for rare or known protected species (I would never use it for Eagle Owl, Dupont’s Lark, for example and very rarely for any other nocturnal species, if at all these days). Common warblers such as Sardinian or Western Bonelli’s would probably be OK in my opinion, Firecrest (they respond so well!), Treecreepers, but then my opinion is not the law, and has less weight than that of an agitated countryside warden.

Another important point: I would not use playback for any bird that I think any other birder will do or would have done the same to. So if you’re chasing someone else’s bird – a specific bird that may have been targeted before you – don’t use playback.

Attracting birds with bird call apps

Attracting birds with bird call apps

There are recommendations that can be found about how to use playback “within reason”, which generally reflect on the observer’s experience, knowledge and respect for the bird.

For example:

  • Don’t use “ghetto-blasters” on playback loop
  • Don’t use playback loop at any volume – use selected sections of the song or call only
  • Position yourself strategically and use a “bird-like” volume
  • If it doesn’t work after a brief period of trying move on, and let the bird have its life back

If you would like to read more about the use of birdcall playback apps and the like in the field this article at Audubon, adapted from the original by David Allan Sibley is worth reading.

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