A Plea Against Playback

A Plea Against Playback

We can call it “Call Playback”, or “Tape lure” or by any other nomenclature, but the fact remains that this technique of luring birds out by playing back a bird-call is unethical and has an adverse effect on the bird. We, at SAEVUS, request everyone, scientists, researchers, ornithologists, tour guides, photographers and amateur birders to stop and consider the consequences of their action.

There is no denying that wildlife photography has been an effective tool for conservation, up to a limit. Wildlife photography, in the intrusive ways it is practised today, can safely be termed a menace. The boom in social media has also seen an increase in several unethical practices that wildlife photographers deploy to get those ‘magical’ shots of their subjects, and one such practice when it comes to shooting birds is ‘playback’.

Birdsong playback has had several advantages: it has helped ornithologists discover, record and describe bird species, their ranges and distributions. Birds that are skulkers by nature are impossible to observe without this ‘deception’. But ever since playback has landed in the hands of photographers and bird tour operators, this tool has been nothing but a tool for peril to birdlife. Bird photographers have mindlessly been exposing birds to the risks that come with playback: an unnecessary expenditure of the bird’s energy, and exposing itself to its predators.

Many birdwatchers and even Indian scientists who are now conducting bird photo tours are guilty of propagating the use of playback, and the practice now goes unchecked in some of India’s most popular birding destinations such as the Western, Central and Eastern Himalayas, the Western Ghats and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Unfortunately, some of our rarest and most endangered birds are also found in these hotspots. Birds are frequently harassed, disturbed, and driven out of cover, all for the sake of a great close-up. In a recent case, a Hooded Pitta (the bird in the cartoon) was forced to abandon its nest after being hounded by playback-photographers in Bengal.

A scientist with a permit for research in a given area should be the only one permitted to use playback. Birdwatchers, bird tour operators and photographers found using playback must be apprehended and penalized. The current rampancy of playback and the sheer number of people using it today has made the situation something of an emergency. We request all to join us in appealing to forest departments across the country to ban this practice in and around their areas of jurisdiction. The Wildlife Protection Act of India outlines baiting of wildlife in any form as an illegal and punishable offence. As playback can be considered a form of baiting, we appeal to the forest officers and law-makers who are reading this, to work on laying concrete guidelines on the use of playback, on priority.


Cover Photo: Rohan Chakravarty

Read also:  Cutting edge conservation 

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About the Author /

India’s premium wildlife and natural history web portal and magazine It was somewhere out there in the wilderness that an idea was born. An idea called Saevus. A dream, a vision to bring India’s amazing bio-diversity to every home. To celebrate the bold, beautiful and dynamic India, much of it unseen and unexplored. It was the coming together of seasoned entrepreneurs, ace photographers, naturalists, and storytellers to captivate your imagination and arouse your consciousness.


  • Clara Correia

    July 1, 2018

    While I am in total agreement of no playback policy. I would also like to highlight a contributing factor to it . The photography competitions held have a section called Action images which encourage photographers to adopt other unethical practices including playback to get mating, nest making, feeding shots etc. So if Saevus can take the first step while announcing the categories it would set a precedence of practicing what it preaches.

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