Ethical Owl Photography

fine art wildlife photograph of a great gray owlA great gray owl out for an evening hunt

What does it mean to be ethical when photographing owls or for that matter any species? It means your presence does not alter or change the animal's behavior or cause it stress. When owls are stressed or bothered by people they do not hunt and can actually starve to death. Snowy owls are particularly sensitive to human presence and as such many photography websites and even a few contests prohibit snowy owl photos. 

fine art wildlife photograph of a snowy owlA snowy owl rests on a snowbank

What are things not to do when photographing owls?

  • Never bait owls, Baiting owls conditions them to move towards people expecting food. If they have been baited along roadsides it makes them vulnerable to being hit by a vehicle.
  • Do not use owl calls. If owls have owlets or are nesting on eggs, they may leave the nest to investigate the call and expose their offspring to opportunists like ravens and hawks. 
  • Do not walk directly and quickly toward an owl. This can be threatening to an owl. When approaching, try to approach from the side and walk slowly in a zig-zag pattern, pausing occasionally. If the owl moves to another perch wait and then try approaching again, and if it moves again as you approach, leave. Your presence is stressing the owl. 
  • Do not share its location. While an owl may tolerate one or two people, it is stressful when groups of photographers appear and makes it difficult for the owl to hunt. 

Signs an owl is tolerating your presence

  • The owl continues to hunt 
  • The owl preens itself
  • The owl moves closer to you 
  • The owl remains on its perch, actively listening for prey
fine art wildlife photograph of a short eared owlA short-eared owl perches alongside a field