There was a column about bird photography in Sunday’s StarTribune. Dennis Anderson interviewed Michael Furtman, an outdoor writer and photographer from Duluth who spoke bluntly about photographers who ignore ethical behavior when approaching birds. 


I agree with Furtman that this is particularly a problem when owls are the subject. We have come to a point where the location of found owls rarely goes public. This to prevent harassment of the birds, to avoid crowds of photographers, even those who understand appropriate behavior. It’s a shame that we’ve come to that.


Birders have long used cameras in the field. They were birders first. The knowledge gained as a birder and the ethics that should come with birding carried over. The problem seems to be with photographers who take interest in birds without the learning curve, knowing little about birds and the sport of birding. They just want a show-off photo.


The issue Anderson and Furtman discussed is baiting owls — presenting the owl with a mouse, live or toy, to attract the bird. This bait can be offered with a casting rod, as in fishing, or with a line tied to the mouse lure. The goal is to get the owl in attack mode, gliding straight at the camera, wings open, talons to the fore. But that photo is fake, as Furtman says. 


There are photographers who understand their craft and their wildlife subject well enough, and who have the patience required, to take such photos. They are small in number. 


Today, when I see a photo of an owl about to make a kill, wings spread, talons open, coming straight at the camera, it is hard not to question the behavior behind the picture. If the photo is a fake, the viewer is being conned.