guide ethical bird photography
guide ethical bird photography

If you are taking a birding ecotour, you must first show a sincere respect for birds and the places they need to develop before you get that perfect photo. But how do you do that? If you do not have any idea, do not worry! Here is a guide to ​​ethical bird photography.

Avoid causing unnecessary discomfort or stress to birds

  • Never approach birds, whether they are solitary birds or flocks of birds, with the intention of making them fly. This disrupts natural processes such as resting, foraging or hunting, and causes them to waste energy unnecessarily.
  • Use a telephoto lens and keep enough distance to allow your subject to behave naturally. The blinds offer an excellent way to observe and photograph birds without discomfort.
  • Know the rules and laws of the place you are visiting; if there are minimum distances to approach the wildlife, follow them.
  • If your movement causes the bird to fly, flee or change its behavior, you are too close. Some birds may “freeze” instead of flying, or may adopt a protective, aggressive or take-off posture. Notice changes in posture that indicate that birds are stressed and, if you see them, back off.
  • Before sharing specific bird locations with other bird watchers or photographers, think carefully about the possible impacts on birds or their habitats, both individual and cumulative.
  • If you use flash as a supplement to natural light, you should use it sparingly. Avoid the use of flash in nocturnal birds (e.g. owls) at night, as it can temporarily limit their ability to hunt food or avoid obstacles. 

Nesting birds are particularly vulnerable and need special consideration

speckled chachalaca
  • Avoid scaring adults and juveniles or doing anything to draw predators’ attention to the nest. For example, repeatedly walking to a nest can leave traces in the grass and a scent trail for predators.
  • Keep a respectful distance from the nest. If you are using a macro lens or if you include the nest as a focal point in an image with a wide-angle lens, even if you are operating the camera remotely, you’re probably too close. Telephoto lenses of at least 500 mm are recommended.
  • Never use drones to photograph nests, as they can cause injuries and stress to chicks and parents. 
  • If you see a chick on the ground you should not handle them, parents will surely be around and shall be responsible for protecting them. If you notice that they are endangered by domestic animals, it is best to place them safely on a safe branch using gloves to avoid leaving traces of scents, repellents or other odors that you may have in your hands
  • Do not move or cut anything around the nest, such as branches or leaves, as they provide essential camouflage and protection from elements.

Attracting birds closer for photography must be done responsibly

The guiding principle is: could it be harmful to the bird? Always investigate the species and its behavior.

  • Never attract birds (including hawks, owls, eagles, ospreys) with bait. “Bait” includes live animals (such as snakes, fish, mice, crickets, worms); dead animals or parts of animals; processed meat and lures like fake mice. Bait can change the behavior of these predatory birds in ways that are harmful to them.
  • Playback to attract birds closer to the camera should be used sparingly, and should never be used in the case of endangered birds, or birds at critical points in their nesting cycle. When a bird leaves its nest to pursue or defend its territory from a predator, eggs and/or chicks are exposed to predation and weather conditions.
  • Bird feeders, whether or not used for photography, should be kept clean, supplied with only appropriate food and located taking into account the safety of birds.

You can also read: Bird watching with a purpose

Be careful when sharing and captioning your bird photos

versicolored barbet
  • Was the bird baited for scientific research purposes and was the photo taken under the supervision of researchers? It is important to explain it.
  • Always include in the caption if a bird is captive, and explain its circumstances if possible. Integrity and honesty are crucial components of ethical photography and will establish trust in your viewers.
  • With each image you share, try to think not only about ethics, but also about the visualization of ethics. When viewers scroll through a photo gallery, the image can communicate much stronger than the caption, and that could present a problem when there is something about the photo that requires explanations.
  • Sharing locations with environmental corporations of threatened species from habitat loss can help monitor and control protected areas that are being invaded.

These were some tips on bird photography ethics. Photographing birds in flight, in short, is no small thing, but if you follow these little tricks, it is not a feat either. As always in photography, success depends on practice and your willingness to be patient first and creative afterwards. 

Colourful Birding invites you to discover beautiful bird gardens that can be visited and that create a space of protection for many animal species. Do not hesitate to contact us if you require further information about our bird photography travels.

Photos: Alfredo Cornejo