Roseate Spoonbill just prior to leavingRoseate Spoonbill just prior to leaving

Below are just a few examples of situations I have found myself in where Birding or Bird Photography Etiquette might have helped:

#1 One morning in 2008 while photographing Roseate Spoonbills in the lagoon of Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach my subjects took flight because two bird photographers walked up behind me talking loudly and banging their gear. This image shows one of the Spoonbills looking at those photographers as they walked up.

I had taken a long time to get close to my subjects, moving forward by scooting my knees across the bottom of the lagoon while making sure not to splash the water to alarm the birds. I was ticked off because the opportunity to photograph the birds longer literally flew away because the photographers didn’t use etiquette when they approached.

These photographers should have been talking softly and taking care not to make unnecessary noise.

If they wanted to photograph the birds I was already on they could have softly asked if it was okay to approach or moved slowly into the field of my peripheral vision and motioned to me. If they had approached like I had; down low and slow, they probably would not have frightened the birds away and then all of us could have photographed the Spoonbills together.

#2 On another morning at Fort De Soto County Park I noticed some Roseate Spoonbills, a white morph Reddish Egret and several Snowy Egrets actively feeding in the shallow water of a tidal lagoon and I also saw that a bird photographer was already there. I looked the situation over and decided that if I were to approach the female bird photographer I would most likely scare her subjects away so I kept walking down the beach.

On my return to the area the bird photographer had left so I dropped down into the sand and slowly belly crawled towards the birds and the edge of the lagoon. I had been photographing for a few minutes when I noticed that all the birds seemed alarmed and since I hadn’t moved or upset the birds I wondered what the problem was and soon found out as I heard someone behind me yelling “Is that a Flamingo?” at which point all of the birds flushed and flew away. The woman had just strolled up, which caused the birds to be alarmed and when she yelled, I lost my subjects.

This lady was obviously a tourist and not native to Florida, most likely not a photographer (she didn’t have any gear) or a birder (no binocs or scope) and perhaps she didn’t realize that yelling was going to scare away the birds I had very patiently approached. She was there for sunning on the beach, not birds or wildlife. Still a bit of common courtesy on her part would have gone a long way.

#3 One afternoon at Honeymoon Island State Park there were several Eastern Towhees right next to Osprey Trail that were not paying the least attention to me as they flitted around chasing each other, I would say I was easily within 10 feet of the birds and they were in beautiful light. I took one test shot to make sure that the exposure looked good on my LCD screen when some people walking the trail came up talking very loudly and scared the birds away. They did not have binoculars or cameras in hand so I would say they were members of the “general public” just enjoying the park that scared away my subjects.

Nature is enjoyed by many people, not just birders and bird photographers but if these people had been quieter they would not have scared away my subjects and they might have gotten some good looks at the Eastern Towhees themselves.

#4 On another occasion I was trying to get images of a Barred Owl at Lettuce Lake near Tampa, Florida when a birder/bird photographer played audio so many times that the Barred Owl took off for a quieter part of the park which robbed me and the other photographers in the area from getting images of the owl.

This guy was just rude, when there are other people in the area it would have been courteous to ask “if” they minded if he played audio near us. He didn’t ask and he played it over and over until the bird had enough and left.

I would also feel cheated if someone nearby used a call that made the subject I was photographing go over to investigate the playback. 

Personally I do not use audio playbacks of birds or animal calls to attract my subjects or bring them closer to me, I want to photograph my subjects doing what they do naturally.

#5 I was at a local Wildlife Management Area on the dirt road where a group of birders all traveling by separate cars had effectively blocked anyone else from passing them because not all of them had pulled their vehicles over to the shoulder as far as they could. We had to wait for those people to pull over to the shoulder after some people in the birding group brought it to the attention of the people parked in the middle of the road.

We all need to extend common courtesy to other people using the outdoor areas by allowing room for other people to pass on foot or by vehicle if it the location is on a road.

#6 A few days ago while trying to photograph White-crowned Sparrows on a wild Rose bush at Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area from inside a mobile blind (pickup) a person pulled up behind us, got out of their truck and walked up to the window I was shooting out of. My 200-400mm VR lens was plainly visible resting on my noodle and the sounds of my shutter was clearly audible. The man chatted about what he had seen, asked what we had seen and asked what we were aiming our lenses at. Meanwhile some of the birds took off because he was outside his vehicle and talking and moving quite often to show me what he had taken images of while he appeared oblivious to the fact he had interrupted me from taking images or that he had scared off some of the subjects that I was attempting to photograph.

This gentleman might not have been aware of Birding or Wildlife Photography Etiquette. When a photographer is looking through their lens while it is set up on a tripod it would be polite to wait to talk to them after they move their eyes away from their viewfinder. In the case of people using a vehicle as a mobile blind it would be polite to wait to approach them on foot until after they move their lens inside the vehicle or until they motion to you to come forward.

Doing a Google Search on Birding Etiquette will bring up lots of links that have plenty of information available for birders, bird photographers and the general public who participate in outdoor activities like nature watching. It is especially helpful for novice birders and budding bird photographers to take the time to study the guidelines.

Birding/Bird Photography Etiquette and Birding/Bird Photography Ethics are different, etiquette has to do with how Birders and Bird Photographers interact with other birders, with other people enjoying the outdoors and how we behave in the field. I hope to do a post on Birding/Bird Photography Ethics in the future.

Here is a link to Birding/Bird Photography etiquette information:

Birding Etiquette – Birding

I think it is always important to try to remember that not everyone knows that there is such a thing as Birding or Bird Photography Etiquette. It could be a good time to bring the subject up; politely of course. You never know, you may be making a lifetime friend or introducing someone to the (addictive) wonderful world of birds!