What is unethical bird photography?

That might depend who you ask. But in a perfect world there would be no disagreement about what constitutes bird photography that is unethical. However, standards and expectations about just how people should behave when photographing birds and how far people should go to get the photo do differ wildly between individuals as well as locations.

We can easily define what ethical bird photography is, or at least the goal of photographing birds ethically: that is to get your photos without causing stress, disturbance or harm to the bird. This sounds simple enough, but it is rarely such a black and white issue. Every species and habitat can present the photographer with a different version of acceptable ethical behavior.

What causes stress to one species might not even be noticeable to another. Some species at locations which are regularly frequented by humans, may become accustomed to people being quite close, while the same species in a location that is well away from crowds will often be considerably less tolerant of human presence.

This is where knowing your subject well becomes critically important. Whatever the case, working on the assumption that all birds can be stressed by close human presence is the best place to start. And we can almost always double that thought when it comes to nesting birds – one of the major aspects of ethical bird photography is never to disturb a bird at the nest.

In the worst case, this can and does result in desertion of the nest completely; resulting in the slow death or predation of any chicks.