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Thread: How close is too close?

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    Bryan Hix
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    Default How close is too close?

    Just thought I would post this question to the community. How close is too close for bird photography to be considered harassment of the bird? Does it depend on the type of bird? Does it depend on if the bird is feeding, nesting, breeding? We as a community try to be responsible, but at what point does our passion for photography and capturing the moment cross the line? I don't know the answer and would love to hear the opinions of others on this topic. Thanks!
    -Bryan

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    To me every animal has a comfort zone-we all know when that comfort zone is being challenged-Back-off-PERIOD. Those are my feelings, sorry I don't mean to sound loud-but it all comes down to common sense and if you don't have it then you have no business photographing birds or wildlife. (I in no way am implying that you don't have common sense-I use "you" as a general reference)

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    I think its a fine line that varies for each subject. I have found that getting very close is possible when using a blind and being set up before the subject presents itself. When approaching a subject, one just has to watch and know the reactions of the given subject. Soon as you see any signs of causing some stress, your too close. Problem is, at that point, you already stressed them and backing off may not fix the situation. There are so many variables I don't think one can say "X" is the distance for, etc...

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    William Malacarne
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    A lot will depend on where you are at....some places the birds and animals are very used to being around people.

    Bill

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    BPN Viewer Rocky Sharwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by denise ippolito View Post
    To me every animal has a comfort zone-we all know when that comfort zone is being challenged-Back-off-PERIOD. Those are my feelings, sorry I don't mean to sound loud-but it all comes down to common sense and if you don't have it then you have no business photographing birds or wildlife. (I in no way am implying that you don't have common sense-I use "you" as a general reference)
    I think the failing of some photographers and birders is that they do not recognize they are invading a comfort zone.

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    BPN Viewer Rocky Sharwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bryan Hix View Post
    Just thought I would post this question to the community. How close is too close for bird photography to be considered harassment of the bird? Does it depend on the type of bird? Does it depend on if the bird is feeding, nesting, breeding? We as a community try to be responsible, but at what point does our passion for photography and capturing the moment cross the line? I don't know the answer and would love to hear the opinions of others on this topic. Thanks!
    -Bryan
    Bryan.....I think it varies depending on the situation. I know that I am really careful here in FL when birds are on eggs in the spring--it is way too hot for a bird to be off the eggs for long based upon what i know.

    My typical problem in FL--especially at Ft. DeSoto is that the birds come too close when I am on my belly in the goo. Plovers have come right up to the the hood of the 600

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    Inside the minimum focusing distance for a lens is definately too close :).

    Seriously though my thoughts are whenever a photographers presence causes an animal or bird to change its behaviour to fight or flight. Only experince will tell you how confortable particular species are with your presence although it does seem to change a lot with individuals and location. For example animals and birds in public parks are often very approachable. One thing I have noticed is that birds that have been ringed (banded) are often much more approachable which I can only assume is because of their previous human contact.

    Cheers

    Rich

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    Default When you get too close they fly away

    My goodness. Certainly nesting birds need to be protected, but very often I approached feeding birds, they notice me and fly away. I carefully watch behavior as I approach, and if it looks like they notice me, I back off. However, on countless occasions I get noticed, and of course this is not my plan, but they fly off anyway. My attitude is when you have violated their comfort zone, they fly off, and I can't imagine this unduly stresses the birds. If I have taken pictures, and I'm finished, I slowly back away. Now if the rule was to not violating comfort zones, which sounds like political correctness to animals, I immediately need to get rid of my camera equipment. Sorry, I don't plan on it.
    You want to talk about stress? I would put audio recording to attract birds at the top. See what happens when you attract two males of a species, responding to a call, together, and see the fight that ensues. Now we are talking life/death struggles and real stress! regards~Bill

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    Connie Mier
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    Quote Originally Posted by WIlliam Maroldo View Post
    My attitude is when you have violated their comfort zone, they fly off, and I can't imagine this unduly stresses the birds.
    I don't think this quite fits the nesting bird situation where the parent will not fly off and of course, the young one's that cannot fly, do not fly off either. Case in point, the notorious plume hunters of a century ago learned quickly that they could approach a rookery and shoot the adults at will without worrying about them flying off after one loud shot.

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    Let's not forget that when you open the door of your house or your vehicle or when you take a walk in your backyard or the woods that you will be causing birds to fly on many, many occasions..... Then let's add in habitat destruction and development by the human race, folks walking on the beach, folks walking their dogs on the beach or in the woods, 8 quadrillion feral cats killing millions and millions of birds each year, the disturbance of nesting colonies and populations of birds by researchers, and about 1,000 other factors and I would guess that disturbance by bird photographers who probably comprise at tiny, tiny fraction of 1% of the world's population and we are not talking about a major problem.

    Folks need to take care of how they act in the field of course as a matter of personal ethics but there simply cannot be any hard and fast rules or any set distances.
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    Attached Images Attached Images
     
    Let's try this one on for size: am I too close to this fledgling Green Heron? (Image by Fabiola Forns)

    ps: I am holding the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens.
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  12. #12
    Bryan Hix
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    Denise, no worries I understood what you meant. :) This is an interesting topic because I have read several threads on various sites that address concerns about photographers "harassing" wildlife and to be honest I was concerned that maybe I have pushed it too far and not even realized it. For example, I can clearly tell when waterfowl are nervous just by watching their body language and learning when to stop from experience. On the other hand, I don't think Chickadees have the ability to be stressed out. Joking of course, but they don't seem to mind humans one bit in the normal course of their day.

    The photo that Artie posted seems perfectly fine to me, so I would be curious to hear the rationale of someone who thinks that is inappropriate and unethical. I think chasing birds around on a boat to force them to fly is a pretty obvious violation of ethics, but what about quietly approaching them with a trolling motor to a point where they still continue to behave normally? Is it harrassment when I pull my car off the road to try and capture a hawk perched 100+ yards away and it suddenly launches from it's perch when I stick my lens out the window?

    It was mentioned about using electronic calls to attract certain species. Is that wrong all the time? I know of and admire a great bird photographer that uses calls occasionally. Those calls have given this photographer the ability to capture some incredible photos. I have given serious thought to using them as well until again, I read several thread of people criticizing that practice. I suppose I will just use what I think are common sense, respectable, ethical tactics to position myself for the best photo I can make. If someone has a problem with anything I do in the field, I will be happy to have a friendly debate about the offense.
    Last edited by Bryan Hix; 11-08-2009 at 10:43 PM.

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    Bryan, You seem to have a good head on your shoulders. If you feel you are too close-you probably are. Sometimes I get into my position and allow the birds to come near me. I find they often do as long as I don't make any sudden moves. I don't use calls, mostly because I feel I am misleading the birds. But that is just my personal feeling and does not mean that I disapprove of anyone else using them.

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    I agree with Artie, with the addition that the treatment given highly endangered species, such as Kirtlands Warbler, Whooping Cranes etc. be given special consideration. One always has to ask themselves is the picture worth the risk? Is the photograph of a European Starling, or an endangered species? But even researchers have very limited access to Kirtland's Warbler and other highly endangered species.

    If you have doubts about your ethics as a birder/bird photographer, a good starting place is the ABA Code of Ethics. Once you have spent weeks/months/years in the field you will develop a sense of when your actions are threatening and when they aren't.

    I've used electronic calls in the field for several decades and learned their use from someone with many decades of field use before me. I'm confident in my use of recordings and their use around many species. I carefully study the birds behavior, and at the first sign of any serious, threatening issues I discontinue the use of recordings with that species, in that area/territory.

  15. #15
    Alfred Forns
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    ... btw shortly after this image was made one of the local residents on this morning walk tried scaring the bird into flying so photographers would be out of the way. He lunged at the bird and some from our group restrained him.... then he just walked away !!!! ... bird stood his ground and did not even move!!!

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    I think we have to draw line for ourselves , If we love subject we wont harm them for sure
    As far as I am concerned , I use hides for tiny birds ,
    for bigger birds I visit location before sunrise in dark and wait for them to come close.
    Most of the time I have observed that I got better shots ( of course by my own standards:D) by sitting at one place than chasing them

    just my 2 cents:)

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    My approach is often "get in and out of there" really quickly when I'm affecting a bird's comfort and possibly altering its behavior. We had a group of Long-Eared Owls that became famous last winter. You would get lines of cars for people hoping to see them... all day everyday. I found this to be very unfair to the birds, as L.E.O.'s generally don't flush.

    Personally, I have plenty of shots of Warblers and other songbirds at minimum focusing distance due to my own pure luck or good approaching technique. None of these were close to nesting areas or for prolonged periods of time. Birds are accustomed to small distractions and I hope to never effect a bird's longevity. I do however, unfortunately, encounter photographers with varying levels of concern about animals' comfort zones. It's also important to realize that animals weren't created merely for our entertainment. They are life forms that should be respected.

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    Bryan, See Dan Cadieux's audio thread in the ER for lots of excellent free info.
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    Super Moderator Daniel Cadieux's Avatar
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    It's pretty much a case by case judgement. Every individual, even from a same species, can and will react differently to comfort zones. In time you will learn to recognize the signs, and decide if you are too close. Birds that willingly come "too close", such as shorebirds walking by while you are lying on the beach or chickadees/nuthatches feeding in your hand are of course in no stress if you just let them be. I can tell you are already in the right direction Bryan, as your judgement and concerns seem good and legit. Just being outside we are violating lots of birds' and other animals' comfort zone wether we like it or not...just take a regular walk in your neighbourhood and see how many sparrows/robins/crows/gulls/squirrels flush away ;-)

    You want to talk about stress? I would put audio recording to attract birds at the top. See what happens when you attract two males of a species, responding to a call, together, and see the fight that ensues.
    As for William's audio comment quoted above: Just being curious here - is this something that you see happening regularly with the use of audio? I use recordings often enough in season, and I have never had two males of the same species come in, let alone fight because of that.

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    That probably depends on how densely the species nest, and how ideal the habitat is. I've even seen a redstart and chestnut-sided warb square off because they couldn't tell the difference between their calls.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Schneider View Post
    That probably depends on how densely the species nest, and how ideal the habitat is. I've even seen a redstart and chestnut-sided warb square off because they couldn't tell the difference between their calls.
    Greg, Please do not take this personally but there was no way for you to know the cause of the squabble....
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    Well, yes, there would be because I played the call of one of them (don't remember which one) and they both came.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Schneider View Post
    Well, yes, there would be because I played the call of one of them (don't remember which one) and they both came.
    Sorry to disagree again but they both might have come had you simply spished them. You might surmise but there is no way for you to know for sure what was going on in their tiny brains.
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    Only two people so far (Denise and Harshad) on this thread have demonstrated the only way to be sure you're not stressing the bird or invading any comfort zones, and that is to let the bird come to you. Heck, more than a few times the birds have stressed me out because they landed on the sides of me or so close that I couldn't focus on them, and all I did was sit still and be quiet.

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    Daniel: I was trying to make the point that it is possible that photographers can induce stress in birds, and calling anything at all that changes a birds behavior, by flying away for example, is IMO not stressing the birds. Using the term "Comfort Zones" is silly as well IMO. There is definitely a specific distance that bird species respond to motion that I can only surmise is a threat to them. I am also convinced that it is "motion" that causes the flight response, and it could be a rotted limb falling out of a tree, or me slipping on some wet foliage. If I remain motionless I am convinced by many encounters with birds, I am virtually invisible. Track the birds, and continuously harass them, that is unethical, but this notion that it is unethical to disturb the birds in any way is problematic for me. I am not talking about nesting birds, or endangered species! I certainly want to do no harm to my subjects. Indeed, since many birds are quite territorial, such as herons and egrets, I have often photographed the same bird many times over several years, and the last thing I want to do is cause harm. One time, however, I did, though certainly not intentionally, and probably did not cause permanent harm. I did have an experience with using audio to attract clapper rails, must have been breeding season, and two males were "un-naturally" brought into close proximity by the call, and promptly got into physical altercation: not posturing and the other nice stuff, but actual combat. I ceased to use audio recordings at that point. That is a personal decision, and I can't say that audio recording to attract birds is a bad thing. However, there is the possibility of unintended consequences, that we may never know. Calling a bird guarding a nest may cause the nestlings to be unguarded, and preyed upon. We will never know. My point is there is real stress that we can cause, and I am in agreement that this is unethical. But calling any thing we do that causes a momentary change in behavior a stressful event for the birds, I believe to be untrue. By the way, I do very often know exactly where birds hang out, and wait for them to come to me, and most importantly, remain motionless! regards~Bill

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    Bill, In response to this statement-
    Using the term "Comfort Zones" is silly as well IMO. There is definitely a specific distance that bird species respond to motion that I can only surmise is a threat to them
    What is the difference if I referred to it as a comfort zone or what you described? I don't feel that term is "silly"

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    Denise: sorry, silly may very well be a poor choice of words, and I did say "in my opinion". Basically, the reason I thought comfort zones is inappropriate is because it seems like an attempt to attribute human emotions to birds. And that struck me as silly. Actually, now that you mention it, I could be completely wrong. Hard to believe, but this has happened before! regards~Bill

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    No worries Bill- I really don't have a great word to describe it-but I guess we all get the point:)

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    Wilson Hum
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    Quote Originally Posted by WIlliam Maroldo View Post
    You want to talk about stress? I would put audio recording to attract birds at the top. See what happens when you attract two males of a species, responding to a call, together, and see the fight that ensues. Now we are talking life/death struggles and real stress! regards~Bill
    I'm with you there. Calls played while birds are on territory and nesting will no doubt be stressful to them. Yet, many people nowadays locally and elsewhere play these taped calls without much thought. It's something that works and gets them a nice close-up photo. I actually saw one person playing a tape outside of a nestbox. I had to question the person as that's the LAST place you'd even need a tape. The bird's right there. The not thinking part....the ipod just comes out.

    BTW, got a smile out of Artie's photo with the green heron fledgling. Of course, depending on the lens used to take the photo a zoom can narrow the perspective and make it seem closer than it actually was.
    Last edited by Wilson Hum; 11-10-2009 at 03:51 PM.

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    steve siegel
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    May I put two cents in here for a small number of your forgotten colleagues. I am a videographer of birds. There aren't many of us, but we enjoy shooting the same subjects you do, often at the same time, especially when a rarity occurs, or at well known hotspots like the Mulberry Trees at Fort Desoto, FL.
    Because of the nature of video equipment, our lenses have a longer reach than yours. We tend to stay back. So many times I have been filming a bird, only to have a still photographer approach the same bird at a close distance and flush it with proximity and the repeated sounds of the shutter. I have several clips showing a small bird flick it's wings and jump when a shutter goes off. There is no question in my mind that that photographer was well within the bird's comfort zone, disturbing the bird, and as well ruining my video.
    I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon, but please, when you see someone shooting video, remember that he or she has just as much right to a good image as you do, and that your conversation, desired or not, and often blotting out the natural sound of the bird, will be forever immortalized on videotape.

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    Axel Hildebrandt
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    Quote Originally Posted by steve siegel View Post
    May I put two cents in here for a small number of your forgotten colleagues. I am a videographer of birds. There aren't many of us, but we enjoy shooting the same subjects you do, often at the same time, especially when a rarity occurs, or at well known hotspots like the Mulberry Trees at Fort Desoto, FL.
    Because of the nature of video equipment, our lenses have a longer reach than yours. We tend to stay back. So many times I have been filming a bird, only to have a still photographer approach the same bird at a close distance and flush it with proximity and the repeated sounds of the shutter. I have several clips showing a small bird flick it's wings and jump when a shutter goes off. There is no question in my mind that that photographer was well within the bird's comfort zone, disturbing the bird, and as well ruining my video.
    I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon, but please, when you see someone shooting video, remember that he or she has just as much right to a good image as you do, and that your conversation, desired or not, and often blotting out the natural sound of the bird, will be forever immortalized on videotape.
    Interesting point, Steve! I've never met a videographer while photographing birds but I can imagine that the shutter is not your favorite sound. How good is the sound quality?

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve siegel View Post
    May I put two cents in here for a small number of your forgotten colleagues. I am a videographer of birds. There aren't many of us, but we enjoy shooting the same subjects you do, often at the same time, especially when a rarity occurs, or at well known hotspots like the Mulberry Trees at Fort Desoto, FL.
    Because of the nature of video equipment, our lenses have a longer reach than yours. We tend to stay back. So many times I have been filming a bird, only to have a still photographer approach the same bird at a close distance and flush it with proximity and the repeated sounds of the shutter. I have several clips showing a small bird flick it's wings and jump when a shutter goes off. There is no question in my mind that that photographer was well within the bird's comfort zone, disturbing the bird, and as well ruining my video.
    I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon, but please, when you see someone shooting video, remember that he or she has just as much right to a good image as you do, and that your conversation, desired or not, and often blotting out the natural sound of the bird, will be forever immortalized on videotape.
    Hi Steve,

    If the videographer were there first then the photographer has no right to get between the videographer and the subject. I am sure that we can agree on that.

    From your initial description, however, it seems at times that the photographers might not know of your presence. As far as I know there is not much room at the Mulberry Tree to shoot from "way back." And if the bird photographers were on the bird first, then the onus is always on the guy in the back whether they have a long lens or a video camera. The guy in the back has to move to a clear spot if the folks that were there first move and block their view.

    I have been doing bird photography for a bit more than one-quarter of a century. I am pretty sure that I could count the number of times that a bird has flown away at the sound of a shutter on the fingers of two hands, and most of those were with the EOS-3. I am not saying that bird photographers do not flush birds by trying to get close, just that it is rarely the sound of the shutter that does it.

    How about if folks are photographing a bird when you show up to video it. Do you expect that folks stop photographing and stop talking as well so that they do not ruin your video?
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  33. #33
    steve siegel
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    Hi Arthur,

    With regard to your last point, no, I'm certainly not suggesting that everyone curl up and die while I'm shooting, and especially at a site like Ft. Desoto, there is room for everyone. My plea, however, especially for a rare bird, when there just is no chance to "come back later", is that when a photographer sees a guy with a funny-looking camera that has a microphone on it, that someone is recording not just a picture but the sound as well, and with video, high quality, specific sound on a clean background is half the image. A few seconds is all it takes.
    Just an amusing anecdote on how difficult getting clean sound can be. Last week I was at Zion National Park trying to get some video of the water dripping from Weeping Rock, a popular stop for tourists and photographers. It took me thirty minutes of filming before I could get just 15 seconds of clean sound without footsteps or voices. It's just a sign of our crowded times.

    Best regards and good shooting to all,

    Steve Siegel
    Seiurus Video

  34. #34
    Publisher Arthur Morris's Avatar
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    Hi Steve, Have you ever asked (politely of course) for folks to hush up for a minute and stay still as opposed to suffering in silence? It might be hard for folks to hear your plea from here....
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  35. #35
    steve siegel
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    Yes, that works. It just seems a little pushy and I am not that assertive a person.

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