Wildlife photography is both challenging and rewarding. It is good to see more people taking an interest in birds and trying their hand at some photography.
Most important, in any situation, is the welfare of the subject. There are some ethical considerations that every aspiring bird photographer should acquaint themselves with.
People, most times acting with best of intentions, are often unaware of the stress and harm their presence and activities can have on wildlife. The wildlife photographer who cares for the creatures they seek to photograph need to be aware of the following.
- In most countries now there is a growing body of regulation covering human interaction with wildlife. This covers approaching, disturbing or making contact.
- Move slowly, talk quietly, be unobtrusive and avoid disturbing the environment in any way.
- Do not approach, loiter near, or disturb the area around bird nests. Most publications and photographic contests will no longer accept photos of birds at their nest. This arose from some shameful and callous behaviour on the part of a small minority of photographers.
- Baiting and feeding is a touchy area too. A definite no-no is placing live animals out as bait, for example tethered mice or fish intended to draw hunting raptors to that precise location. I often remove fresh roadkill and place it in a close-by location that is conducive to hide photography. Some people would challenge that, and it is a delicate area, but I feel the same carrion feeders will eat what is essentially a naturally occurring kill and they will at least be safe from becoming roadkill themselves.
- Minimise or avoid using recorded bird calls. There are some great phone apps now that feature the various calls of birds. Many people do not realise that playing those calls can cause great stress in the resident bird(s) of that species. The birds suddenly feel that their chosen territory is under threat from an interloper who may take their food, steal their mates and possible attack their nest.
- Look out for signs of stress in your subject. Basically, that means when the bird starts to respond to your presence, you need to back-off. A bird that approaches the photographer, perhaps calling as well, is not being cute. It is almost certainly doing its best to shoo away what appears to be a giant threat to its territory and family.
The above should always be considered when dealing with birds in the wild. I do bend some of those rules, with some birds, in the setting of my garden. A number of different birds have settled on the land and gardens surrounding our home. Some have become extraordinarily tame of their volition and without any encouragement from us.
Yellow-breasted Sunbirds cheekily hang their nests off patio furniture that we use every day. Unconcernedly, they flutter to and fro, within a metre of us as we go about our normal activities. I have no qualms about photographing their nest building activities and the feeding of their young in that situation.
Likewise, Bush Stone-curlews calmly walk in and out of our house and seek our close company. They will stand within arm’s reach of us, to spend hours preening and then have a snooze. They also lay their eggs on the lawn or garden beds that we actively maintain. Again, I have no issue with photographing these birds and their babies, as they are completely comfortable in their chosen close relationship with us.
One last example is the Willy Wagtails. These perky little birds hang about the water bath and most often build their delicate little nest directly over a path we use every day. If I reached up as I pass under the branch, I could touch their nest. I always take a few photos from a distance they are comfortable with.