On Friday afternoon Joanna and I took a shot at finding the Swainson’s 
Warbler others have reported at Grindstone Park in Columbia. We walked 
various trail loops from about 5-6 pm, centered on its expected 
location, hearing and seeing a variety of other interesting things (like 
courting Flickers; really cool and could be its own MoBirds post) but no 

Just after 6, we had started up the trail along the top of Lost Hill 
when we heard a very clear Swainson’s song through the woods behind us, 
in the direction of the major trail intersection where it’s been 
reported before. We heard the song three times in steady succession, but 
due to thick vegetation could not see its source or the trails on that 
side of the woods. We hurried back down and around the trails and waited 
for another ~20 minutes in the most likely area, but never heard it 

This raises a common concern of mine about people using playback to call 
in birds: you often don’t know whether other birders are nearby 
(particularly in public areas like this heavily-used park with obscured 
sightlines) and what effect your phone has in the soundscape. We’re 
absolutely sure we heard a Swainson’s Warbler song, which would be a 
life bird for both of us. However, given that multiple people have 
reported using playback in the last few days to trick this bird into 
vocalizing or approaching, we can’t be 100% sure we didn’t hear another 
birder’s phone instead of the real bird. Although the quality and 
projection we heard implied a real bird, there will always be an 
asterisk in our minds about this possible life bird because of the known 
repeated use of playback at this location. For this reason, we did not 
include it in our eBird list.

I’m generally not in favor of using artificial sound for a variety of 
reasons, including unnecessary stimulation of birds and an old-school 
sense of “fair play” that likes finding birds (or not) based on skill 
and perseverance rather than technology. Those are personal decisions 
that don’t affect others, but the use of playback does affect others 
when it causes confusion or disruption. Both Joanna and I particularly 
enjoy birding by ear and studying bird behavior, making our enjoyment of 
birding especially sensitive to playback issues. The ABA Code of Ethics 
specifically says:

“Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and 
never use such methods in heavily birded areas or for attracting any 
species that is Threatened, Endangered, of Special Concern, or is rare 
in your local area.”

I hope birders will continue to give thought to the full context of 
using playback, which is a useful tool at times but can also be abused 
to the detriment of birders who feel uncomfortable protesting its use or 
don’t have the chance to.

Checklist here:

The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
ABA Birding Code of Ethics
ASM Spring Meeting: May 3-5, 2019 at Bunker Hill Retreat near Mountain View, MO
Details and online registration at: