Research Study Says Walking Your Dog May Be Harmful To Bird Populations

Walking Dog

A new research study done by Australian scientists has found that dog-walking in a natural area significantly reduces bird diversity and abundance.

Biologist Peter Banks reports in his study that birds perceive dogs as predators and avoid dog-walking areas.

“We found in field studies that dog-walking in bushland causes a 35 percent reduction in bird diversity – the number of species – and a 41 percent reduction in abundance – the number of individual birds in an area,” said Dr. Banks.

“The effect occurs even in areas where dog-walking is common and where they are prohibited, indicating that birds don’t become accustomed to continued disturbance by dogs.

“This evidence clearly supports the long term prohibition of dog-walking from sensitive conservation areas,” Dr. Banks said.

The experiment was conducted at 90 woodland trails in the Sydney, Australia area. The area was chosen because it contains remnants of bushland with trails that are either frequently dog-walked or where dog-walking is prohibited.

The experiment used three conditions to study dogs’ impact on birds: (1) a person walking a dog on a lead on a trail; (2) a person walking alone on a trail; (3) a control condition with no dog walking or humans.

Observers monitored all native birds seen or heard within 165 feet of an 820 feet trail. Monitoring began 20 seconds after the walker/dog-walker had set off and continued for 10 minutes.

Ground-dwellings birds appeared most affected: 50 percent of bird species observed in control sites were absent in dog-walked sites. The effect of dog-walking was most pronounced in the area immediately adjacent to the site where dogs were walked, according to Dr Banks.

“There were 76 fewer birds within 30 feet of the trail when dog-walking occurred compared to control sites, suggesting birds were seeking refuge away from the immediate vicinity of threat.”

The particular sensitivity of ground-dwelling birds to dog-walking was of concern because it could lead to a “cascade” of behavioral changes that could further threaten these species, Dr. Banks stated.

He also said: “The key finding is that dog-walking certainly does have an impact on birds - and we were quite surprised by the magnitude of the impact.”

People walking on the trials also caused a disturbance to bird numbers, but on average it was less than half of the impact compared to dogs.

The team also found that two people walking together without a dog did not have any more impact on the birds than a single person without a dog. This suggested that the birds were responding to the dog’s presence.

The researchers are planning to see how long the birds will stay away for. Dr. Banks said if the birds are away even for a short time period, this could impact their nesting and feeding.

Dr. Banks also noted that even though all of the research was done in Australia, the results of the study could be applied to other areas around the world to conserve wildlife.

Dr. Banks said: “We hope that this information will be useful when people are weighing up decisions about access by people and by people with their dogs. For example, in places where there is a very high value conservation area, perhaps dogs really shouldn’t be allowed there; but there may be other areas where those conservation issues are not as great and maybe those are where dog-walking can be allowed.”

Source: BBC News

7 Responses to “Research Study Says Walking Your Dog May Be Harmful To Bird Populations”

  1. Lynne says:

    Development still does FAR more harm to bird populations than dogs ever could.

  2. nora says:

    That is so right on Lynn. The birds will just move on to the next wooded area where the dogs don’t go, where as developement takes up miles and miles of acres and food and trees and watering sources that impact THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of birds a year.

  3. Moonbeams says:

    I personally object to so many limits/ restrictions being put on dog owners (clean up after our dogs and keep them from pestering wildlife is fine) but so many places ban dogs that it is narrowing the places where one can walk a dog and enjoy nature too - as if dogs are not a part of the natural world - and I suppose people aren’t either - just birds and rats and squirrels and rabbits are okay - but no dogs.

    We are assaulted by loud radios in cars, overhead jets, strong purfume, cursing, yelling, and whatever else humans do out of boredom but yet it is the dogs that is the problem.

    My only complaint is people that don’t pick up their dog’s pooh - and someplaces by the river I don’t go anymore because of the mounds of pooh one has to step over. I’d like a campaign to educate dog owners to pick up after themselves and also to keep their dog on a leash unless in a place where it is okay to let them off leash. People don’t realize that a dog leashed and one unleashed means instant confrontation by the leashed dog. That’s the only issues I think dog owners need to be aware of - birds overhead - ah really?

  4. highnote says:

    I personally do not agree with this at all. I think that animals learn to adapt to changes in their environment. I see too many birds in my back yard on the ground and my dog is right out there too. Since the people are walking their dogs it is not like the dog is running wild through the woods.

  5. pat says:

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that the presence of a dog can disrupt birds, but let’s look at the parameters in this study:

    “Observers monitored all native birds seen or heard within 165 feet of an 820 feet trail. Monitoring began 20 seconds after the walker/dog-walker had set off and continued for 10 minutes.”

    Ten minutes. Ok, this could be problematic for nesting birds or birds rearing chicks… but that’s a seasonal thing.

    And the findings:

    “There were 76 fewer birds within 30 feet of the trail when dog-walking occurred compared to control sites, suggesting birds were seeking refuge away from the immediate vicinity of threat.”

    Within 30 feet of the trail. Nothing about what happened within 40 feet, or 50 feet or 100 feet.

    I think if they have worries about highly sensitive species, they could temporarily restrict access to trails during critical periods in their reproductive cycle.

  6. Lynne says:

    Having 4 dogs in my backyard hasn’t stopped the birds from running through a sack of birdseed each week and I’ve observed over 30 different species in the yard.

    Sounds like a b.s. study to me.

  7. Rhonda says:

    I agree Lynne. Definitely b.s. — my dog has yet to run off the birds and squirrels that come on my back deck to eat from the feeders. As soon as he walks back inside, they are right back at it.


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