Does the color of the clothes you wear while birding make a difference to the birds? Do certain colors make birds more likely to be aware of you? How about your simply being there?
Bird guides are likely to tell you that soft, natural colors are best. Consider the varying shades of green, brown and tan in camo clothing often worn by hunters. Birds have far better color vision than we do. Not being obvious is a good idea.
There is no question that our behavior is a factor. Approaching too close to the bird or making an obvious or noisy approach, those are bad ideas.
Walking and moving slowly are good ideas. So is avoiding eye contact with the bird. (Predators make piercing eye contact with their targets.)
The question continues: Which is more important, color or movement?
Some years ago a friend and I visited the Alaskan village Gambell. It sits in the Bering Sea, a sanctuary for Asian birds blown east off their migration routes. These rarities come one at a time. Seeing them is the point.
My friend brought a friend. Gambell is a cold, wet place, so bring warm clothes. My friend's friend brought a snowmobile suit, red from the collar down.
On the island with us was one of North America's most accomplished birders, a man named Paul. He was with us each day as we searched the few patches of vegetation around the village. Three days passed.
And then Paul walked close to my friend to say in a quiet voice, "Did that guy bring anything to wear that isn't red?"
Since the vegetation on Gambell, an Arctic island, tops out at about 6 inches, our movement certainly was obvious. Muted colors would have been helpful.
I wrote recently in my blog about another Alaskan experience with a bird and a camera. I wanted to get a picture of a foraging plover. When I approached on foot, the bird moved away, restoring the distance between us.
In retrospect, I should have moved away. Instead, I dropped to my hands and knees. I thought the bird might find a low profile less threatening. The plover did allow closer approach, within perhaps 15 yards.
I avoided flushing the bird, and got my photo (and the photo should be the lesser factor).
It's hard to know how close is close enough. It's easy to believe that another yard or two is important. It's only important to the bird.
Pushing the bird, causing it to fly, would waste the bird's time and energy. (And anyway, you can't take a photo of a bird that flew away.) Unnecessary flight is costly to an animal with little extra to spend.
Following a flushed bird for one more good look or one more photo is yet another bad idea. Do it right the first time.
Move slowly, avoid eye contact, and do what's best for the bird. And maybe don't wear a red snowsuit.
Read Jim Williams' birding blog at startribune.com/wingnut.