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Snowy owl and bird photography ethics | by RichardDumoulin
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Snowy owl and bird photography ethics

Harfang des neiges - Snowy owl

Québec Canada


For those wondering what is my approach to photography wild birds (and wild animals), it is based on respect and knowledge.


First you have to know the snowy owl: The average lifespan of the Snowy Owl is 5 years, this is based on the estimates to maintain a stable population given the amount of food available & it may be very low, due to the very high mortality rate in the first year of life. A more reasonable estimate for lifespan in the wild is around 9-12 years.


Snowy owl eats to survive. They live in the cold and in the snow; for them (like for us) food is energy. To get food, they must hunt and it takes energy and time. If a snowy owl is not good at hunting (which is often the case in the first winter) it may die.


Where I am getting? As photographers (and birders), if we don't understand this, and respect the snowy owl, it may interfere with their hunt (less food is less energy) or disturb them (energy lost to fly away). This could be life threatening for them.


My approach to snowy owl photography is based on these principles:


1. I don't use food to get a better picture (I don't give them mouse, real or fake). It's a personal choice, but I must admit that I love mouse, squirrel, and etc as much as I love snowy owl.


2. I will always try to take photos from a comfortable distance, using the appropriate equipments (ex: Canon 500mm + teleconverter 1.4).


3. I approach them quietly and silently and monitor their response to my presence. I want to avoid to disturb them and that they fly away because of me (energy thing - remember).


4. If the snowy owl goes away because it does not like to be disturbed, I may have fail to detect their comfort zone. I will then stop photographing this bird and come back another day.


5. I don't photo-hunt the snowy. PERIOD. If the bird wants to be alone and fly away, do not follow him from spot to spot. Some people like to take picture of the bird in flight and will start a pursuit. Remember that while you do that, the snowy don't hunt, and worst than that, it is spending its energy not to survive but to get away from a photographer.


6. I don't scare birds or animals to get a better picture. If everybody start doing that, it will make the birds and animals harder to approach for the photographers and it some case, like the snowy owl, it may be life threatening.


7. I also recommend that if you join others photographers on the field, that you respect them: talk quietly, verify with them if you can join their group, don’t scare the bird that everybody watch just to get your own photos of the bird flying away.


Nature photography is about respecting and imaging the nature.


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Taken on February 22, 2008