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Ethics and Wildlife Photography

Updated on May 27, 2015

Positive Basis For Wildlife Photography

As an avid birdwatcher and photographer, nobody appreciates a good photo opportunity like I do. I’ve learned a few things over the years, which I’d like to share with you, and it has improved my shots dramatically. There is still more to learn and I’ll pick this up as I continue the journey on the discovery of wildlife photography.

It isn’t just picking up a camera and going out in the field, as there are a number of things that are important in this realm of wildlife photography, specifically the avian world. The primary fact is that birds are constantly watching for their safety, as predators can quickly spot them, and dispatch them or their young ones in seconds. The first key in getting a bird to be out in the open is TRUST. To gain trust, you must be seen by that bird many times for it to realize that you mean no harm. If a bird comes to you, you have fulfilled that goal, so use it wisely. This could take months.

Great Egret in Breeding Plumage
Great Egret in Breeding Plumage | Source

How to Carefully Locate Your Subject

Also, know where to find the birds that you are interested in. This means that you must do a little research on what birds like to eat and where they gravitate. For the sake of continuity, say that songbirds are your primary interest. Your birds of choice dine on many things. Some birds favor seeds, some like fruit in season, and those raising young will be feeding their offspring protein. Protein can be in the form of insects, worms, or larvae. You can glean this information out in the field or research it on the internet. Some birds will be usually located on the ground, like water thrushes or the Ovenbird. Other songbirds prefer conifers(trees with needles) or deciduous trees, which have leaves. Other birds prefer to be near the water, like the Red-winged Blackbird, and others still, enjoy the safety of birdhouses.

Eventually, you’ll learn enough about bird behavior to observe flight patterns, and where nests are being built in the spring. Don’t approach nests, as it will strike fear in the hearts of those birds that you tried so hard to get to trust you. Be patient, and you will reap the rewards of watching nestlings, then seeing them leave the nest as fledglings. Those are the food for terrific photographic opportunities.

Field Sparrow
Field Sparrow | Source

Getting Into the Meat and Photos of Wildlife Photography

Maybe a year or two down the road, you’ll want to take birding trips to other parts of the country where there are birds that you have only heard about. But how will you find them and get good pictures if you’re only there for a short time? Prepare yourself with research before you go. That Long-billed Thrasher in west Texas can be found on the ground, not in the trees like the Brown Thrasher where you live. This is the point where you will need a book like Field Guide to Advanced Birding by Kenn Kaufman.

If you’re still interested in photographing birds more than three years down the road, you have perfected the technique to a good bokah(background), and have a handle on lighting, then you might use a good bird guide in another location, and then what? You’re so excited about rare and uncommon birds, it is almost like a game in getting the best pictures that you’ll stop at nothing to get them.

But wait! Those birds that trusted you because you were patient with them have become a thing of the past, and NOW you want extreme closeups. What happened?

Wood Thrush on Deep Forest Floor
Wood Thrush on Deep Forest Floor | Source

Then Comes the Oh-Oh Factor

Ethics play a part in wildlife photography, too. Sometimes you need to use a blind, which will not let the bird or animal see you while it goes about its business and remains undisturbed by human presence. You’d also better pay attention to that sign that says no pishing(calling birds with alarm calls), and don’t even think about using that new phone app that you got last week to get that Black-billed Cuckoo to come out of that tree.

There are some rules out there when it comes to endangered and breeding birds. If you don’t follow them, those birds may cease to exist. If that sign or common sense tells you not to go any closer or there is a cordoned off area, DON’T and I repeat don’t violate it. You could be causing those birds to abandon their nest site, and I know that you don’t want to do that, because you want to see those birds. You also don’t want to tell those future grandchildren that those birds USED to exist. They will ask you why they aren’t around any more, and you don’t want to break that child’s heart now, do you? It’s because some people broke the law. Even worse, you could have to appear in court for it, as that isn’t a good way to remember that great birding vacation that could have been.

Black-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo | Source

Ethics at a Glance

Have Your Ever Gone Over the Edge When It Comes to Ethics and Photography?

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Feeling Guilty?

It has now come to the time where we have to really have to pay attention and not step over the line, because some animals are so endangered that a false move can destroy them forever. If you do it, and someone else does it, and so on, it really will happen. Oil spills and global warming are causing problems, too. What about the fact that the population is growing, and now we have to cut down that forest across the street from where you live, where you USED to go to find all the warblers in the spring just for a housing development? Where do we draw the line?

This is something that we can easily control, just by following the laws, and not losing more birds and animals. Please help me help them.

Female American Robin with Nesting Material
Female American Robin with Nesting Material | Source
Great Egret Chicks
Great Egret Chicks | Source
Female Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Oriole | Source

© 2015 Deb Hirt

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 20 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Sheila, we WOULD have a great time. Perhaps you could make a trip to the area one day and I will take you to Boomer Lake.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 20 months ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I love taking pictures of birds and I try to be very careful not to disturb them by getting too close. Nature is a very precious thing and I try to respect it. I wish Stillwater was not so far away from Ardmore. I would love to go with you sometime. I am sure we would have a great time and I know that I would learn so much from you!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 20 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Missy, birds really are life itself. Get to know a few, as they will not disappoint.

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 20 months ago from Florida

      I love your article and I definitely love your photos. I love to bird watch and have often tried to snap a few photos. However, they are, to me, the most captivating of animals, yet the quickest.

      Your advice on patience and gaining trust is probably the best advice you can give a bird watcher. I often get frustrated trying to take my time and watch one and then just like that they're off.

      Birds make me feel relaxed and in an odd way envious of the way they seem to soar so free; however, envious in a good way. Birds are just lovely period.

      Many Blessings....:)

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 21 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Dolores! I used to live on the east coast, myself, and to some degree, I miss the cooler weather. The heat is a bit rough on me. I don't keep a bird list.either, but e-Bird tallies my entries, anyway. I'm so happy that you like Great Egret. I have lots of bird material in the Life at Boomer Lake with Deb series, and I now write for my local paper. Follow me on Facebook and I'll direct you to my blogspot if you'd like to see more. Thanks so much for the shares, as it helps me get the word out on so many important issues.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 21 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi, Deb - I found you on my share feed and am so glad! As a kind of lazy birder, I enjoyed reading your suggestions. I like being a lazy birder. Unlike some members of my family, I don't bother to keep a list, just like to look at the birdies. But I know some birders who can be quite pushy.

      Your photo of the Great Egret is awesome and might be the most beautiful photo of that particular bird I have ever seen. Must follow. Have shared.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 21 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Faith Reaper! I have learned the best way to get showstopping photos is when the birds have no idea that anyone is observing them. Thanks again for the shares, as it helps me to promote ideas that make people think. Many times, photographers that are getting started do things innocently without even realizing that they are endangering a bird.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 21 months ago from southern USA

      An important topic for a hub, Deb! Yes, we must respect these darling creatures and then we can enjoy your gorgeous photos knowing full well they were taken with great care and ethics.

      Up ++++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

      Blessings always

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 21 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, manatita! Every picture that I take is a new learning experience.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 21 months ago from london

      Hi Deb,

      I have commented here before but you know, your photography is truly amazing! But again, I'm sure that you know this. Much Love.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 21 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      School took up some of my time, Jackie, and the other time was spent at the lake and photographing my beloved friends elsewhere. There is more on the horizon, and I will let you know as soon as I can do so.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 21 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Sorry I missed this for so long Deb but I was not getting emails from HP for a couple of weeks until I finally figured something was wrong. Don't know who was at fault but all fixed now,I hope!

      Love that first picture up there for sure...and the babies. I did get a few shot of baby cardinals but not altogether, they were just out of their nest and still looking fuzzy and awkward but sooo cute!

      Great to see you back at it!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 21 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Nell, for your support. I'm still learning this craft, but I think I am getting there.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 21 months ago from England

      Awesome advice Deb, and your photos really do you justice, they are amazing as always!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 21 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      If you want to learn about birding, ps, you might enjoy reading my newspaper column. I include a few other things in there, as well. Happy birding!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 21 months ago from sunny Florida

      My heart does ache so as I drive by another new section that is heavily wooded and home to not just our precious bird friends but to so many other creatures. Why??? We need NO more housing in this area.

      O it makes me so sad.

      You gave so many great tips in this hub; I am not really a birder...I love to watch them but have not really gotten into it like I think I should as I do adore learning about them.

      Thanks for sharing Voted up++++ Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 21 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Dave. As I work on everything, it all comes together. Here's to another season of practice, control, and more knowledge.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 21 months ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb,excellent advise from an excellent photographer. You are so right about getting to know and understand your subjects and the skill needed to pull it off. Love the Orchard Oriole I can almost hear it singing. Voted up interesting and beautiful.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Mel. I don't think anyone did it to be malicious, it was more carelessness than anything. However, this adds to the problem where birds and animals don't breed due to human interference.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sanjay, I am doing my best to try to circumvent that through my writings, newspaper column, and area talks. Word of mouth helps so much, and children are some of my biggest proponents.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 22 months ago from San Diego California

      This is something that definitely needs to be said. The problem is that too many birdwatchers these days are obsessively competitive listers, and they love their lists more than they love the birds that they scratch off their lists. Competitive bird watching can be fun, it is definitely better than hunting as far as a sport goes, but birders have to respect the natural space of the birds first. Great hub!

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

      Sanjay Sharma 22 months ago from Mandi (HP) India

      I often feel sad about the extinct wildlife. According to an estimate the human activities are likely to eliminate about 10 million species (of both flora and fauna) by the middle of the present century.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      ChitrangadaSharan, there is so much to be said FOR the world of animals. They can only do it their way, and not everyone can hear.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Jodah! Thanks for taking a look at the material. Glad that you feel that it's worthwhile, as there are so many thins going on, adding to man's inhumanity to man.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 22 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Lovely hub and so happy to see you back, writing about these lovely creatures.

      You are so right about the 'ethics' regarding wildlife. We all must take care to preserve the wildlife and its wonderful inhabitants.

      Great pictures and a useful and informative hub! Voted up.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 22 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I did read this wonderful hub last night Deb, and was sure I commented but it was late so maybe I didn't hit 'post'. Anyway it is a great message and tips accompanied by delightful photos. Well done.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      DzyMsLizzy, I welcome you into the fold. Thanks so much for your sharing, as it helps me to help the animals.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 22 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Beautiful photos, to illustrate very important points! Well done!

      Voted up and across as well as shared!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Mary, for being on my team. We can all do this together if we combine forces.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 22 months ago from New York

      I'm on my computer and have now shared!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, perspy! It is all the The Cause, and glad to hear that your world is doing well.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Akriti, there is, and thank you so much for being there to help.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      As aways, Deergha, thanks for the shares, as the word travels well that way. There is so much to yet to do, and so little time, which is why like-minded people help things move.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Been busy with school, Alicia, but I still have loose ends to tie up with it. Still reading, and of course, trying to make an impact with animals. I have a feelings that I'll soon be saying that it has only just begun.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 22 months ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Hummingbirds (they can't remember the words), barn swallows, thrushes, mourning doves, robins, starlings, peregrens, pigeons, crows, sparrows, quail (here all year) are some here.

      Good to see you here and flourishing. Up and all but funny.

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 22 months ago from Shimla, India

      There is a great message in there. Voted up :)

    • dghbrh profile image

      deergha 22 months ago from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!!

      A real refreshment to read your hubs always, Deb. Thanks for this one. The photos are soo beautiful like always.

      Shared and votes way up.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 22 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Lovely photos and great advice, Deb. I'm very happy to read one of your hubs again!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Barbara Kay! There's lots more where that came from. Always remember to be a citizen scientist for the bird counts. If you can, you might want to join Audubon or subscribe to Birds and Blooms. There will always be so much to learn for all of us. I keep track of my birding counts each day that I go out on eBird, so you could look at that, too, if you're not familiar with it.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Mary! Share at another time, and we'll get the word out about this concern. People don't mean to stress birds, but it does happen due to lack of knowledge. We must be there to help whenever we can.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Kay Badder 22 months ago from USA

      The photos are beautiful. As of yet I've only watched the birds other than swans I've photographed. I'll remember your tips.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 22 months ago from New York

      Oh Deb, how wonderful to see one of your hubs! Your love of birds and concern for their survival is certainly news we need to spread. In my little backyard we have bird feeders, hummingbird feeders, and two bird baths. They come and go at their leisure, much to our enjoyment.

      Your pictures are so perfect it is obvious you could never steer us wrong.

      Voted all but funny, unfortunately I'm on my iPad and cannot share.

      Looking forward to more of your hubs.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Which one, whonu?

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, magnetite! It has been a long road, but 'tis only beginning on a new path. May I serve it well.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 22 months ago from United States

      One of the most beautiful photographs I've ever seen. whonu

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 22 months ago from london

      Very loving, well-written and informative. Great knowledge and sound advice . Always good to hear from you Deb. Lots of love today ...

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Suhail, teach everyone that you know what you know and what you glean from others. This is how we get the word out to keep our animals thriving. Thanks for your support!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Sha! Glad to hear about your wonderful neighborhood family, and keep up the good work. When fall migration comes around, provide food and water for those stopping over for a rest before they cross the Gulf. That will be the extra push that they need. Thanks for all that you do.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 22 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Awesome tips, Deb!

      So I can say with confidence that the birds in ravines and the conservation park close to my home are now quite used to seeing K2 and me together. They hardly fly away. Even if they fly, they are perched on the next tree admonishing us hahaha.

      My advice is also that photographers should not get over-excited trying to take shots of nestlings in a well hidden nest or by baiting (the raptors, kites, and vultures).

      Deb, we deserve a book from you, say in next couple of years, no pressure.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 22 months ago from Central Florida

      Deb, I wish I could have stopped the developing that's going on in my neighborhood; I tried but failed. Eighteen wooded lots have been sold (after being a haven for birds and other wildlife for well over 50 years!) to make room for houses. It just breaks my heart.

      The good news is, a Pileated Woodpecker family is growing in the wooded lot across the street from my house. I spotted the male building a nest in April. I've been documenting the activity with my camera from day one and posting on my blog. We now have babies and I actually got a fairly decent shot of Mama feeding them yesterday. I don't have a great camera, so it's hard to get good shots 15' up the tree. However, both Mama and Papa are very familiar with me and aren't intimidated when I show up with my camera. It's so exciting to watch! I'm looking forward to when the fledglings make their first flight. They're now big enough that they can stick their heads out of the nest when being fed and they have their beautiful red crowns, so it'll probably be any day now.

      Your photos are so impeccable. You're very fortunate to be able to get close enough to take the beautiful shots you do.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Exactly, Billy. I have missed you, and hope all is well. Will be getting back into the swing again, but it could be hit or miss. I suspect that life is really going to start changing now.

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      Bill Holland 22 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great tips, Deb! I love the tip that says allow the bird a comfort zone and let them trust you and come to you. We do that daily with our birds in our aviary and our rabbits. Trust can be established but it takes a long time and patience.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 22 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, when! It has been a while. I finished my degree, but I suspect that things will get even busier from here on out. Got lots of catchup to do on HubPages.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 22 months ago from United States

      Great message and very beautiful photos my friend. whonu

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