Approaching Chicks Too Close – When Something Should be Said or Done

/, Glacier County, Great Horned Owls, Montana, Nesting Birds, Wildlife Ethics/Approaching Chicks Too Close – When Something Should be Said or Done

Great Horned Owl chicks outside of a granaryGreat Horned Owl chicks outside of a granary – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-4000mm with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

First I want to describe the conditions under which I photographed this pair of Great Horned Owl chicks and then I will get to the reason for my post title. When I photographed these owl chicks I was a good distance away from the birds, I was hiding behind a parked vehicle using my 200-400mm VR lens with a 1.4x TC attached which with the cropped sensor of my Nikon D200 gave me an effective 35mm focal length of 825mm.

I was able to photograph these Great Horned Owl chicks without approaching them too close and I was only with them for about 7 minutes before leaving them alone. This image is 70% of the original full frame image, I will take larger crops with chicks to keep my distance from them while photographing. I only stay with chicks for a short period of time so I don’t put pressure on them and also so the adults will feel safe enough to feed their chicks when they feel it is needed. That is the ethical thing to do. It is the right thing to do.

Ethics on photographing nesting birds and chicks:

  • Do not approach too closely;
  • If the birds show any sign of distress, back away;
  • Don’t trim leaves, twigs or branches to get a clearer shot, you may inadvertently attract predators or cause the eggs/chicks to over heat;
  • Follow local, state and federal guidelines concerning nesting birds;
  • Don’t harass the birds to get an action shot;
  • Don’t stay a long time with nesting birds or chicks, that disrupts their normal behavior;
  • Always remember that your scent may draw predators to the area of nesting birds or birds with chicks.

For more information on the ethics of photographing nesting birds or chicks check out the Principles of Birding Ethics published by the American Birding Association.

Okay, on to the reason for my title. I belong to a lot of groups on Facebook that have to do with birds, photographing them, identifying birds and other groups where photos are shown, species are discussed and so on. I find that it helps me learn more about birds and I can also help other people. But there are times when I see things on those Facebook groups that get my feathers ruffled.

One Facebook group I was added to is all about getting new members for their organization and it does not seem to be moderated very well at all even though it lists 8 group admin in the member section.

Fifteen days ago a close up portrait of a wild Great Horned Owl chick was posted in that Facebook group and when I read what the person wrote about how they obtained the photo I felt my blood pressure rising because of the lack of ethics by the person with the camera.

I have to say this person might not not be aware of the ethics concerning photographing chicks or nesting birds or that they might be and just don’t care. I can’t say for certain.

This is what they said about photographing the extreme close up of a Great Horned Owl chick, I have removed the location where it was photographed:

Great Horned Owlet …… after its first lengthy flight of nearly 40 feet . i very slowly cautiously made my way up to this cutie , talking softly and moving slowly as to pose no threat , finally sitting down within 4 feet of her / him , quietly observing for nearly a half hour , then slowly raising my camera for a few shots . manual focused because of close proximity , such a fantastic experience to spend the time with such an innocent beauty . i left this one in its comfort place feeling in awww . June 04 / 17 , 1/500 shutter , F 8.0 , ISO 320 , @ 200mm

First the person states that they made their way closer to the Great Horned Owl chick, the chick did NOT move closer to them and they are simply assuming that the chick felt no threat as they approached. They can not know that if they think that approaching an owl chick that close is appropriate. The person states they were ONLY 4 feet from this chick which is WAY too close. The person with the camera says they took the image at 200mm, my lens won’t even focus if I were that close.

They also say they spent half an hour with this chick which is too long in my opinion because it could have prevented the parents from feeding the chick. The chick might have been afraid to move away because the person with the camera was way too close.

I know that what this person did was not right and the 8 moderators of that group should have said something but in 15 days they haven’t said a word about them being too close to the owl chick. Nothing. And by not saying anything to the person with the camera they missed out on explaining why being that close to an owl chick, or any chick for that long, is not a good idea. They also missed out on other people seeing their explanation which might have made them think more carefully about approaching chicks in the future. They missed the opportunity to talk about ethics and to educate.

And yes, I have spent enough time in the field to know there are times when birds approach the photographer at ranges sometimes to close to photograph and that has happened to me when I have sat absolutely still on a beach, sitting on grass or while using a vehicle as a mobile blind. That is different because it is the bird moving closer not the person with the camera.

I belong to other groups on Facebook like the American Birding Association (ABA) where if the admins or moderators were to see a person saying they approached an owl chick that close they would post a link to the page on ethics on the ABA site.

ABA Birding EthicsI am proud to be a member of the ABA, a group that will always speak up for birds on their Facebook pages, their web site and out in the field.

The other organization seems to only have their Facebook page to increase their membership and that is disappointing. In their Facebook page description they have this posted:

Participants should not engage in argumentative behavior or individual debates. Discussions should encourage participation of other members.

I would have said something to the person with the camera that got too close to that owl chick had it not been for that statement. Why? Because there are times that just saying “I think you were too close to that bird” can start an all out online fight in a Facebook group and it won’t end nicely. I believe the admin/moderators of that group should have taken the opportunity to educate. But they didn’t and I believe they should have.


And yes, I know there are times when researchers or bird banders approach chicks as close as the person with the camera who photographed that owl chick, photograph them and share images, that is different. For now I won’t express my thoughts on that. 


  1. Elephants Child June 20, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Can you talk to the moderators? Please.

  2. April Olson June 20, 2017 at 11:44 am

    I am reading Bernd Heinrich’s book One Wild Bird at a Time. I find his observations interesting but he is way to intrusive into the nests. He may claim to be a biologist but 9 intrusions into a nest in 30 day is too much. I have to put the book down because as you say it make my blood boil!

  3. Patty Chadwick June 20, 2017 at 10:32 am

    The owl chick that very invasive photographer was far, far too close to, may not have been moving, not because it was unafraid, but because it was “freezing” (not moving) in fear and self protection…apparently the photographer was too ignorant to know this— as was the rest of the group…sad and stupid!!!

  4. M. Bruce June 20, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Did you consider messaging the moderators directly?

  5. Nicole Haller-Wilson June 20, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Riff Raff Hawk watch does not allow any photos of chicks or nests at all during the breeding season… perhaps something can be said to the moderators? Education will impact some people, others are just unscrupulous…

  6. Patty Chadwick June 20, 2017 at 9:18 am

    That photographer NEEDS to hear some ethics!!! Their whole group does!!!

  7. Mary Jo Adams June 20, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Thank you for saying and posting this! I heartily agree that there are both birders and photographers who all too frequently put their own self interest in seeing and/or photographing a bird (or other wild animal) above the interest and well-being of what they are photographing! It’s crazy and sad, but typical of the world these days when humans only think of themselves.

  8. Liz Cormack June 20, 2017 at 7:13 am

    Yes, well said! Do these people have no sense at all?

  9. Colleen Crank June 20, 2017 at 7:11 am

    This is also a hot button issue for me. Not only with photographers, but birders as well.

  10. Kim June 20, 2017 at 6:33 am

    Well said!

Comments are closed.