The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

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Be Bird Flu-safe as you Enjoy Birdwatching

BUSINESS WORLD
Vol. XX, No. 217
Friday-Saturday, June 1-2, 2007

Health

Be bird flu safe as you enjoy bird watching

 
Wild birds continue to be caught and traded (left) ; Teaching them young: Just watch, don't catch ! (right)

The worldwide bird-watcher's ethical battlecry says it all: "Just watch, don't catch".Bird watching, also called birding, "is a quest", according to the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCPI), and it is a most gratifying hobby wherein "you set out to see birds (and) the prize you come back with can only be described as happiness." "Learning to bird is like getting a lifetime ticket to the theater of nature," the WBCPI attests. The Philippines is a haven for birds. A good number of species, including endemic ones, are found only in the country, making it an excellent stop for bird enthusiasts worldwide. While places like Sagada in northern Luzon, Palawan, and various parts of the Visayas and Mindanao are foremost spots for birding, there are actually areas within the Metro Manila where bird watching can be enjoyed. These include the American Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio and the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City. Within an hour's drive or two from Manila, there is also the Candaba Swamp inPampanga, Taal Volcano and Mt. Makiling. The WBCPI, which aims to promote responsible enjoyment of nature, has outlined a code for good bird watching, courtesy of honorary member Arne Jensen, for maximum delight and ensuring safety from contracting or spreading the bird flu virus:

  • Dress in accordance to the weather and be prepared to be sweaty and even muddy. An umbrella is useful against rain and for sun protection. Bring water, sun block lotion, food, a notebook and wear a cap. Pack these in a small backpack (do not leave in the car!).
  • Best time for watching is from 5-7 am and from 5-6:30pm. On light rainy days, birds are normally active most of the day.
  • Wear light clothes of natural colors - preferably khaki,green etc.
  • Always keep your binocular perfectly clean and dry.
  • At all times make as little noise as possible and talk in low voices or whisper so as not to scare the birds away.
  • Walk around slowly and make no speedy movements. This may scare the birds.
  • Do not bring dogs with you. Birds are scared of dogs.
  • If you can hide in the vegetation or stand right next to a tree while observing the birds, you may get the birds closer to you.
  • If you are a group of bird watchers, always stay together in one flock so that no one walks ahead or falls behind to give everyone equal chance to see the birds.
  • Do not stay near birds' nests and never take their young or their eggs.
  • Report illegal wildlife trade to accredited institutions and nongovernmental organizations like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Haribon-BirdLife.
  • Report the rare and unusual birds to the Wild Bird Club Records Committee. If you are really keen and do regular bird watching, always make notes in the field of what species you see, count them, note where you see them (their habitats) and note human activities (hunting, land conversion like reclamation, forest or grass fires).
  • If you don't know what species it is, try to make a simple sketch of it and describe what you see (size, form and length of beak, legs, tail, wings, colors and patterns). This may help to make the final identification later.

Ethics

Dennis P. Liuag, one of the founding members of WBCPI, says that if people follow the basic rules of "staying away from sick birds; never, ever handle dead ones; or capture ones from the wild," then the danger of contracting bird flu is very remote. "As a birdwatcher, I keep my distance from birds as part of the worldwide birdwatcher's ethics against harassing wildlife. The birdwatcher's ethic follows the same: Watch, Don't Touch; Don't Disturb or Catch," he adds. The local bird watchers group WBCPI (www.birdwatch.ph), established in July 2003, is open for membership to individuals who wish to watch birds and share that experience with others. The group aims to keep records, undertake activities to promote bird watching and provide support, within its means, toward the preservation of the flora and fauna of the Philippines and remain sensitive to the people sharing their habitats. The WBCPI has been helping out the DENR in its task of collecting data for the Asian Waterbird Census, which is a part of an annual global survey of water birds. As part of the government's educational campaign under the extensive Avian Influenza Protection Program, the Avian Influenza Task Force (AITF) has repeatedly been issuing warnings against the dangers of hunting and capturing migratory and other wild birds. Furthermore, the AITF strongly cautions against the buying and selling of foreign exotic birds, especially in the black market.

For more information on bird flu, visit the following government Web sites or hot lines:

Department of Agriculture (www.da.gov.ph), or Department of Health (www.doh.gov. ph).
DoH Bird Flu Hot lines: 711-6808
DA Bird Flu Hot line: 925-9999
DA Bird Flu Text Messaging: Type DA BFLUmessage then send to 2920 (both Smart and Globe)