Ethical Birding and Bird Photography

With the increasing popularity of birding and bird photography, combined with warm weather and spending more time outdoors, it’s a good time to remind everyone of the dos and don’ts of birding and bird photography. Think of it as birding etiquette. Audubon has several articles to this effect, here are a few pointers taken directly from their website.

The first essential element in bird photography and videography is a sincere respect for the birds and their environment. In any conflict of interest, the well-being of the birds and their habitats must come before the ambitions of the birder, photographer or videographer.

Avoid causing unnecessary disturbance or stress to birds.

  • Use a telephoto lens and maintain enough distance to allow your subject to behave naturally. Blinds offer a great way to watch and photograph or record video footage of birds without disturbing them.
  • Never advance on birds with the intention of making them fly, whether they are lone birds or flocks of birds. This disrupts natural processes such as resting, foraging, or hunting, and causes them to expend energy unnecessarily.
  • If your approach causes a bird to flush (fly or run away) or change its behavior, you’re too close. Some birds may “freeze” in place rather than fly away, or may hunch into a protective, aggressive, or pre-flight stance. Watch for changes in posture indicating that a bird is stressed, and if you see these, back away. If focused on you, birds may miss a predator.
  • Do not use drones to photograph or record video footage of birds, especially at their nests. Although drones can be useful for researchers and biologists documenting bird populations (such as at island nesting colonies), drones in general can be very disruptive to birds. They are also illegal in national parks and some state parks.
  • Concern for birds’ habitat is also essential. Be aware and respectful of your surroundings. Avoid trampling sensitive vegetation or disturbing other wildlife.

Nesting birds are particularly vulnerable and need extra consideration.

Photo by Jeff Sanders
  • Keep a respectful distance from the nest. If you’re using a macro lens or including the nest as a focal point in an image/footage with a wide-angle lens, even if you’re operating the camera remotely, you’re probably too close. Telephoto lenses of at least 500mm are recommended.

Beach-nesting birds (shorebirds and seabirds) require special care.

  • Respect and give space to the boundaries of roped-off nesting areas.        
  • Maintain a minimum distance of 25 yards from beach-nesting birds, especially solitary flightless chicks but also adults brooding, feeding, or incubating chicks.  Parents frightened from their nests leave eggs and chicks vulnerable to swift predation from gulls and other animals, as well as deadly temperature extremes. 
  • Situate yourself so that you are not in a direct line from the nest area to the water, which can inhibit the family and/or chicks from heading down to the waterline to feed. It is vital that chicks feed as much as possible to gain enough weight to survive their upcoming migration. If the young are feeding at the shoreline, take special care to keep your distance so they don’t hurry back to the nest area/dunes.

Show respect for private and public property, and consideration for other people.

Backyard Birding Photographers – Judy Morr
  • Enter private land only with permission. On public property such as parks and refuges, be aware of local regulations, hours, and closed areas.
  • Be respectful of birds located on private land but viewable from a public vantage point, and also respect the privacy of these private landowners. If they are uncomfortable with your presence, leave.
  • In group situations, be considerate of other photographers, videographers, and birders watching the same bird. Remember that your desire to photograph or record video footage of the bird doesn’t outweigh the rights of others to observe it. Large groups of people are potentially more disturbing to birds, so it may be necessary to keep a greater distance.

Showing a sincere respect for birds and the places they need to thrive must come before getting that perfect photo or footage. Birding, and bird photography, should be an enjoyable and stress-free pass-time for us and the birds. For more information about this and similar topics, go to:


Submitted by Gina Sanders

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