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Original Research

Waterbird flight initiation distances at Barberspan Bird Sanctuary, South Africa

Carina Coetzer, Hindrik Bouwman

Koedoe; Vol 59, No 1 (2017), 8 pages. doi: 10.4102/koedoe.v59i1.1419

Submitted: 27 June 2016
Published:  30 May 2017


With tourism in South Africa expanding, the number of avitourists increases. The increase in infrastructure and human activities in protected areas, if not managed properly, can be harmful to birds. Flight initiation distances (FID) can be used as a method to monitor habituation to disturbances. This study was performed at the Barberspan Bird Sanctuary, North West province, South Africa, to determine the levels of habituation among waterbirds and make appropriate recommendations regarding the management of the reserve. Our results indicated a 0.29 m increase in FID per gram reported mean biomass. Compared with conspecific or congeneric birds from Australia, Europe and North America, South African birds have relatively larger FIDs to human disturbance, which may indicate lower habituation. We also calculated buffer zones based on the maximum FID of the waterbirds for three mass groups. These buffer zones were then matched with the spatial distribution of the birds along the shoreline. We recommend that the mean FID for the blacksmith lapwing, Vanellus armatus (62 m), can be used as approach distance outside the breeding season in areas where the birds are sparsely distributed and 104 m during the breeding season in breeding areas. A large buffer of 200 m is suggested for areas with threatened, sensitive and skittish species. However, it is still preferable for avitourists to use the bird hides along the shores.

Conservation implications: This study provides information for conservation management at Barberspan, based on typical birder activity. Smaller birds would need smaller buffer zones, while larger birds need much greater distances from observers to minimise disturbance. Similar studies can be applied elsewhere.

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Author affiliations

Carina Coetzer, Research Unit: Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University, South Africa
Hindrik Bouwman, Research Unit: Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University, South Africa


Flight initiation distances; FID; waterbirds; reserve management; Barberspan Bird Sanctuary; tourism; buffer zone; approach distance; conservation; avitourists


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ISSN: 0075-6458 (print) | ISSN: 2071-0771 (online)

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