Painted-snipe & the Ethics of Location-sharing

​by Craig Brelsford

I made a mistake the other day. On the Shanghai Birding WeChat group, 153 members strong, I shared the location of a pair of breeding birds. I’m talking about the Greater Painted-snipe at Cape Nanhui in Pudong.

At first, I thought the painted-snipes were vagrants, perhaps on a post-breeding dispersal. Then I noticed that one of the painted-snipes was male, the other female.

I didn’t see fledglings or a nest. Even so, I should have known that I was viewing a pair that was probably breeding.

In the spirit of Cooperative Birding that is the core of, I shared the location on the WeChat group, still thinking incorrectly that the painted-snipes were vagrants and not breeders.

Within seconds, the location was known to anyone using the Shanghai Birding WeChat group.

Then other Shanghai Birding members offered very persuasive evidence that the painted-snipes at Nanhui are indeed breeding.

And now, more and more onlookers apparently are converging on the nest site.

A few people getting a quick look are one thing. Many people lingering for a long time are another thing.

I fear a result such as occurred this past spring with the breeding Reed Parrotbill at Nanhui. Then, pressure from photographers likely led to the failure of a nest.

We Shanghai birders must work to prevent this!

The Nanhui painted-snipes are breeding in a trash-strewn canal—very sub-optimal.

In addition, they may be dealing with big, scary creatures (us) staring at them for hours at a time.

That’s extremely sub-optimal.

When I viewed the painted-snipes, I saw that they were acutely aware of my presence and were almost certainly modifying their behavior as a result of my presence.

That’s why my friends and I got out of there quick.

I like taking photos, but I contented myself with some record shots and got out of there.

I suggest others do the same. Let’s be conservationists first and artists second.

And by all means, let us keep revealing the locations of interesting birds.

But remember, it is one thing to reveal the location of a migrating bird that likely will be gone in a few minutes or hours. In the spirit of Cooperative Birding, we owe it to our fellow birders to reveal those locations so that they too can enjoy the rare passage migrant.

It’s quite another thing to reveal the location of the nest of a rare bird.

A nesting bird is a sitting duck (in some cases literally). A nesting bird can hardly be more vulnerable.

So I’m sorry I revealed the nest site of the painted-snipes.

But that’s water under the bridge. The key now is to control the situation at the nest site.

Please, police yourself first. Don’t linger too long. Be a conservationist.

If you see anyone getting out of hand, then please speak up. Again, be a conservationist.

Let’s love the Nanhui painted-snipes from a distance and help them successfully raise their baby.

Thank you!

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford is the founder of Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. Now back home in Florida, Brelsford maintains close ties to the Shanghai birding community and continues his enthusiastic development of this website. When Brelsford departed China, he was the top-ranked eBirder in that country, having noted more than 930 species. Brelsford was also the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai, with more than 320 species. Brelsford’s photos of birds have won various awards and been published in books and periodicals and on websites all over the world. Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, published in its entirety on this website, is the most Shanghai-centric field guide ever written. Brelsford is a graduate of the University of Florida and earned a master's in business administration at the University of Liege, Belgium.

One thought on “Painted-snipe & the Ethics of Location-sharing”

  1. It is always a dilemma. You are correct that it is the painted-snipe males that bring up the young, the females mate with several different males moving on after the eggs are laid.

    I once saw three females chasing a harassed male around the paddies outside Beijing!

    I am always reluctant in giving out locations of rare or breeding species on an open-board level.

    While most birders are sensible, many are not and overly greedy while also suffering from a lack of knowledge about the breeding habits of the birds of interest. It is why boards such as the Oriental Bird Club will not usually accept any photos of birds, especially raptors, at the nest due to the risk of desertion.

    I have come to the conclusion that it is better to keep such sensitive information to trusted and known birding companions.

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