Dogs Walking in the Woods Scares off Birds

Walking dogs through the woods displaces wildlife, resulting in decreased bird diversity and abundance.

A walk through the woods with our faithful 4 legged companion….a familiar pastime shared by dog owners all over the world. And yet this seemingly idyllic activity is not without it’s ecological consequences.

Researchers in Australia (Biol. Lett. 22 December 2007 vol. 3 no. 6 611-613) decided to study the impact of dog walking on birds. They found that areas in which dog-waling took place showed the greatest greatest reduction on bird numbers and diversity when compared to the other two treatments.

The authors manipulated 90 sites into three groups; walkers with dogs, walkers only and the control group – no dogs or walkers. To further test for wildlife habituation the testing tracts were equally divided into frequently dog-walked sites and areas where it was prohibited.

dog walking in woodland leads to a 35% reduction in bird diversity and 41% reduction in abundance

Ground dwelling birds appeared most affected; 50% of the species recorded in control sites were absent from dog-walked sites. For birds which did not flee the site, there were 76% fewer individuals within 10 m of the trail

Peter B Banks and Jessica V Bryant

Dog walking in natural areas reduces (a) bird abundance and (b) bird diversity. Ninety sites were treated with either walkers with dogs on leads (black bars), walkers alone (grey bars) or no treatment (white bars). Half the sites were in areas where dog walking was permitted and the other where dogs were prohibited. Values represent least-squared means ±s.e. from an ANCOVA which included significant wind effects.

The authors conclude:

The dramatic reduction in bird diversity and abundance in response to dog walking has immediate implications for other popular recreational activities pursued by humans. This includes bird watching and ecotourism where visitor satisfaction shows a strong relationship to numbers of species seen (Naidoo & Adamowicz 2005). Wildlife surveys, which are used throughout the world to map bird distributions and factors affecting spatial patterns (e.g. Blackburn et al. 1999), could also be compromised if conducted when and where dog walking had recently occurred. It is also possible that the particular sensitivity of ground dwelling birds to dog walking (Blumstein et al. 2005) may lead to a cascade of potential behavioural changes in birds with implications for their local conservation (Hill et al. 1997). Our results therefore support the long-term prohibition of dog walking from sensitive conservation areas.

http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/6/611.full

The study doesn’t even address the secondary impact of displacing birds.  They play an important role in insect control, seed dispersalpollination and more.

Something to think about during the next walk in the woods.

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2 thoughts on “Dogs Walking in the Woods Scares off Birds

  1. Makes good sense, especially for the ground dwelling and feeding birds. But the dogs do like a good romp through the woods, especially hunting dogs like labs. My lab did his share of birding.

    • So do mine. And I hope it didn’t come out like I was against enjoying the woods. It’s just something to keep in mind for those making policies regarding sensitive and conservation areas and for those considering breaking those rules.

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