Wild versus Captive Birds in Photography – Keeping it Real, Keeping it Honest

/, Peregrine Falcons, Salt Lake County, Utah/Wild versus Captive Birds in Photography – Keeping it Real, Keeping it Honest

Goose the Peregrine Falcon - A HawkWatch International education birdGoose the Peregrine Falcon – A HawkWatch International education bird – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/13, ISO 2000, Nikkor 18-200mm VR at 200mm, natural light

When I was at HawkWatch International last week to see and photograph Galileo the Short-eared Owl that I had a small part in rescuing, Nikki Wayment, who is the Education & Outreach Director at HawkWatch International, also introduced us to some of the other education birds they have there. One of those birds is Goose the Peregrine Falcon and I took a few images of her in her mew. To learn more about Goose and how she came to be an education bird at HawkWatch please click here.

Goose is a beautiful bird and I love this portrait of her, being able to be this close to a Peregrine Falcon is amazing and thrilling and I loved being able to photograph her up close in person as much as I enjoyed photographing Galileo. I’ve made it clear on my post about Galileo and in this post about Goose that they are education birds and in my photo galleries I have included this symbol (C) to indicate they are captive birds.

In fact in my photo galleries the only two captive birds found there as of this date are Galileo and Goose. The reason I place the (C) is because I do not want to deceive or confuse anyone viewing those images into believing they are wild and free birds. They aren’t and it would be totally unethical for me to omit the fact that they are captive.

But some photographers do just that with birds and animals. They omit the fact that they are captive birds or animals which is not real, not honest. And some of those people try to pass off images of captive birds and animals as wild on social media and in print. Whether they are in zoos, aviaries or game farms, those birds and animals are not truly wild and free.

Some time ago a person living in Florida posted a photo on a nature photography site of an owl I knew to be a captive education bird from a park I used to go to when I still lived there. Given that the rules of that site were that no captive birds were to be posted and the guy was new to the site I tried to be nice and asked if the bird was captive and stated that there were rules about them not being posted. He denied it.

Look into the right eye of Goose above and you will see a reflection of the structure of the top of her mew in her eyes. That owl also showed a similar reflection of its mew in its eyes. When confronted with that “fact” by someone other than myself the guy got angry, nasty, defensive and bad mouthed me and others when caught in his lie.

Since then I have checked out the guy’s Facebook page and he misleads people all the time by posting captive birds and animals without telling people they are captive and even goes so far as to (poorly) clone in more natural looking backgrounds in an effort to be even more deceptive. People comment on his images and tell him he “must be a bird whisperer” and he thanks them for it all the while knowing those birds are captive and even brags that he is “the bird whisperer”. To be fair at this point, I know he does photograph some birds in the wild and they are mixed in with the captive birds in his galleries.

It is just wrong to mislead people in that way.

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with photographing in zoos, aviaries or education centers where birds and animals are captive. They can be great places to practice photography and learn more about our subjects.

I admit that I do have many issues with game farms which I won’t go into now.

I believe that all captive animals and birds, even those photographed and held temporarily captive while being banded, should be labeled as captive any time or any where they are posted on line to keep it real and honest. To not label them as captive is deceptive and disingenuous.



  1. Utahbooklover January 19, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    “I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with photographing in zoos, aviaries or education centers where birds and animals are captive. They can be great places to practice photography and learn more about our subjects.”

    Many of the birds in Utah’s Hogle Zoo have injuries that prevent releasing them. It’s wonderful to get up close, and practice photography I agree. I do have mixed feelings about some of the other captive animals. Colo, the nation’s oldest living gorilla turned 60 last month at the Columbus Zoo. They claim she was the first gorilla in the world born in a zoo.

    • Utahbooklover January 19, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      Sadly Mia just informed me that Colo recently died. Still she far surpassed their average lifespan. (December 22, 1956 – January 17, 2017) She was briefly called Cuddles before a contest was held to officially name her. (Mrs. Howard Brannon of Zanesville, Ohio, won the contest.) Colo’s name was derived from the place of her birth, Columbus, Ohio. (Wikipedia)

  2. Mary Jo Adams January 19, 2017 at 6:01 am

    I have many photos of captive birds…one very similar to your Peregrine. It’s crazy to think that one would try to pass off such an image as shot “in the wild”, but as others have mentioned, ethics is something that some photographers (nature and otherwise) don’t have. I initially started to shoot captive birds because it was easier and there were more opportunities to do so. I also love being able to get close to them, especially the raptors. But as my skills have slowly improved, I find it a wonderful challenge to get a great image like you do…out “in the wild” where conditions are not controlled except by mother nature. And you are my inspiration to do so!

  3. April Olson January 18, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    You captured the beautiful slate grays, blues and subtle maroons in the feathers of the of the Peregrine.

  4. Colleen Crank January 18, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Being a birder and photographer myself, when I look at pictures of birds, especially ones that are close up, I really pick it over to look for details such as the reflection of the mew in the bird’s eyes as you had mentioned. As you mentioned, some photographers will mention the fact that it is a captive bird, and others will not. They should know they will not fool everyone.

  5. Laura Culley January 18, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    What Patty said! Integrity and honesty is seemingly in short supply these days. I often wonder how people can look at themselves in the mirror without SOMETHING going off, telling them they need to reorganize their priorities. But evidently, they can live with lies in their lives. I’ve found that lies and dishonesty ALWAYS comes back to bite you, one way or another and sometimes in ways that are invisible to others.

  6. Elephant's Child January 18, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Yes. Emphatically.

  7. Patty Chadwick January 18, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Don, Vicki, Liz and Steven said it all so well….

  8. Patty Chadwick January 18, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Mia! Don’t you realize that lying, cheating , innuendo and deception are “IN”? Honesty is OUT!!! Old fashioned! Obsolete! Get it right and you can go right to the top! I want to quibble on another point…you and Ron did PLENTY, not a “small part” in saving Galileo. That poor bird was hung up on that effing devil’s wire, wounded and starving! Until you and Ron removed him and rushed him to medical help! You saved his life!!! Guys that that “photoliar” are politically correct–by today’s twisted standards. Thank god there are still dinosaurs like you, Ron, Jerry and others around. Captive bird photography has its place, but why not just be honest about it….it adds to credibility, as you well know….

  9. Miguel Acosta January 18, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Well said. I posted this on Facebook a few weeks ago: I rarely ever rant. But I recently had a discussion, regarding wild vs captive.
    If you photograph a captive subject, it is only fair to provide a disclaimer.Taking excellent pictures in zoos and wildlife parks,does involve skill and when you share them to achieve acclaim, “please do not forget” to mention that the image was taken of a captive subject. A very good image of a captive subject is itself deserving of some praise, but it’s a bit disingenuous to allow people to believe that the captive subject of the photo was/is truly “wild.

  10. Don January 18, 2017 at 8:53 am

    It is wrong to mislead people about photography. We appreciate the full disclosure of your photos and the wonderful quality of your work! Thank you so very much!

  11. Vicki Rogerson January 18, 2017 at 8:20 am

    The integrity of the photo is completely ruined, and in particular when the photographer has ample opportunity to clarify I find this lack of honesty repugnant. I appreciate very much the photographers like you who are ethical in revealing information like this, and who also follow other ethical practices in attaining and presenting their photographs. I hope the person you spoke of gets blackballed since we are not talking about someone who is naive, unaware of the rules, or just did this once.

  12. Liz Cormack January 18, 2017 at 7:16 am

    I totally agree. Too bad there isn’t legislation to prevent people from deceiving buyers of their photographs…..false advertising???

  13. judy January 18, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Great photo!
    and I agree…..it should be posted as a captive bird/critter.

  14. Roger Burnard January 18, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Amen to all you’ve said Mia… I hope other photographers will heed your words. ;-)))

  15. Steven Kessel January 18, 2017 at 6:43 am

    I agree with you 100%. “Zoo” photography is a totally different genre than nature photography and, while the two genres are equally valid, one should never be confused with the other.

  16. Kim January 18, 2017 at 6:35 am

    As always, another beautiful image.

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