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Considering Owl Ethics

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via The Nemesis Bird

The ethics of owl photography is one issue birders have discussed at great length, particularly in the modern era as we’ve seen the rise and increased ease of digital photography.  We’ve even discussed it here at the ABA Blog on occasion.  Owls, after all, are charismatic.  They’re too infrequently seen.  They can be devilishly hard to photograph. And on those rare occasions when the stars align and an owl is observed in daylight, it can be very easy to take things too far without really even realizing that you’re doing so.

 

NSWO

Northern Saw-whet Owl, digiscoped by Nate Swick in Middlesex, Massachusetts, from a respectful distance

Most birders do our best to abide by the ABA Code of Birding Ethics, particularly when it comes to disturbing roosting owls.  But absent any sort of clear owl-specific advice, it can be hard to know precisely how much is too much until the owl flushes and every binocular-toter in the tri-county area is calling for your head.

At The Nemesis Bird, Andy McGann tackles this issue with a well put together post on photographing roosting owls, but the advice works just as well for those who just want to observe them:

  • If you catch wind of the known whereabouts of an owl’s daytime roost, ask someone-who-knows for more information.  However, this can often be an unproductive dead-end, because many birders are rightfully extremely guarded when it comes to trusting others with a bird’s well-being.  On the bright side, their hearts are in the right place.  The down side is that people can get totally bent out of shape when someone withholds information.  TRY NOT TO TAKE IT PERSONALLY.  If possible, politely ask if you could possibly arrange to join them when they check up on that-roost-they-know-about.
  • Target roosts that are located on PUBLIC LAND, especially those WITH POPULAR HIKING TRAILS.  Why?  Because the  birds at these locations are simply more accustomed to seeing people walking around.  Birds become desensitized to people walking in the areas where they always walk.  Like city pigeons, but not quite that extreme.

Anyway, there’s far more and it’s good stuff.  Go check it out!

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog. A long-time member of the bird blogosphere, Nate has been writing about birds and birding at The Drinking Bird since 2007, but can also be found writing regularly at 10,000 Birds. In the non-digital world, he's an environmental educator and interpretive naturalist. Nate lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children, who are not yet aware that they are being groomed to be birders.
Nate Swick

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