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Disturbance of nesting birds by photographers (1 Viewer)


I am a relatively new member of Bird Forum, and most frequently admire birds through the range finder of my camera. To date, I have posted well over 300 photos of birds from various parts of the world, and hope to continue to expand my Bird Forum portfolio. I receive many positive comments from bird lovers about my photos, and this gives me great pleasure. I am constantly trying to improve my bird photography skills.

I was recently taken-aback by the removal of two of my posted photos by Bird Forum officials due to the site's policy against photographing nests. I understand the good reasons for this policy, and support it. However, I believe that, to be fair the policy needs to be fine tuned.

The goal of the rule should be to avoid disturbance of the subjects so as not to decrease the probability of reproductive and nesting success. We all want these beautiful and interesting creatures to maintain, and in many cases to increase their populations. Certainly, sneaking up close, even only as close as ~5 m to a nest with young or an adult on eggs should be taboo. The use of flash in such circumstances may make negative impacts even worse. I love birds, and want to keep them around

The two photos of mine that were removed were not of nests at all. They showed the exterior of Red-throated Bee-eater nest holes in a stream-cut bank. One photo was of the bank showing the many holes (no birds), and was taken with telephoto lens at a distance of about 20 meters. The other photo showed an adult perched at the entrance of it's hole, holding an insect in its beak. The bird was about to take the insect into the tunnel to feed to its young at the inner end. The young birds were far into the burrow, and could not be seen from the exterior. This photo was taken with telephoto 13-14 meters from the bird and the opening of its nest hole. Flash was not used for either photo. The birds did not alter their behavior as I approached my shooting position. I do not think that the removal of these photos was fair.

Top bird guides often take serious photographers who use long telephoto lenses to such sites. The individual guiding me in Uganda where these photos were taken was a dedicated bird conservationist who was deeply concerned about the protection of birds. His livelihood depended on healthy bird populations; he would not have wanted to harm the birds.

Why not add a minimum photographing distance to the Bird Forum rule? Any other suggestions?
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Well-known member
No, I think if photos like yours described were displayed on here, it would tempt others, who are maybe less experienced as yourself and the guide, to think it was ok as a general rule. Then they may start snapping nest sites of other species from a similar distance which would inevitably cause disturbance.

Happy with the rule as it stands to be honest. Or change it to a blanket minimum distance equivalent to the shyest / most nervous of species, which would be a lot further than 15 metres, probably closer to 500 metres!

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Dear Peter and KCF,
My camera lens setup is roughly equivalent in magnification to an 8-10x pair of binoculars. What's the difference in the effect on a nesting bird and/or it's nestlings, or a pair of mating birds between a person with such camera (without flash, of course) and a birder observing the bird activities from 15 m away? Is there a rule (not a "guideline") against Bird Forum participants reporting on such observations on the website? Isn't the rule discriminatory against those who wish to observe through the range finder of their camera versus those who wish to observe through binoculars?


KC Foggin

Super Moderator
Staff member
Opus Editor
United States
Anyone can put anything they want in the equipment used and if we can't read the exif info on the photo we don't know either. So you may post that you have a long lens when in reality you may not. Not that we have time to check exif info on each shot. Trust me, we had one individual who bragged about climbing a tree to get the nest shot and then balked at the photo being removed.

We have far too many new members who see a nest shot and think that it is perfectly okay to post one as well with no thought on how it was taken or what equipment was used and they go ahead and take their shot without regard to the danger they are putting the nesting birds in.

We are about the well being of birds and where your equipment may allow you to take a photo w/o disturbance, it is not always the case when someone else sees that nest shot in the gallery and thinks its perfectly okay. Don't know what else to tell you but as mentioned earlier, it is a guideline and a guideline we came to after much deliberation and comments from other members.


Well-known member
I can understand the frustration, but in general I just accept that in order to avoid any possible promotion of disturbance to nests, they find it too difficult to try to cull every photo for the backstory to see if it was such a case...so they just ban them all. Where they draw the line at 'nest' photos or birds near a nest, I do not know.

I have many photos of birds standing on nests, sitting on nests, closeups of eggs in the nest, baby birds in the nest, etc. Yet I've never disturbed a nest or put myself close to them for a shot. Where I live (South Florida), the interaction between man and bird is quite different compared to many other places - here, birds nest within human areas, in wetlands reserve areas where photographers frequent, the birds are given hundreds of acres to build their nests, but more often than not choose to do so right near levees and boardwalks. The birds have figured out there's a measure of protection near people - from other swamp predators that often steal the eggs or kill the young. So just walking around a boardwalk on the designated path, you are often looking directly into or down on a variety of nests, or are within 20 feet or so of them. Hundreds if not thousands of people a day march past them - and these are places the birds choose to make their nests - many of these wetlands areas have only been set aside a few years ago.

So I too have an exception to the rule - I have many photos of nests and nesting birds and chicks, some taken from as close as 10 feet, yet not through any act of disturbance or intentional encroachment on their nesting area. But I know I can't post those shots here, as someone else might not realize how unique and odd the situation is down here, and might think I did disturb the nests.

It's unfortunate for us...but I don't think they've got the manpower or the desire to try to filter through every nest photo submitted to make sure it fits a specific set of rules, and even if they did, could still fall victim to someone's dishonesty of the conditions of the shot, or misconceptions by viewers about the photo and how it was obtained.


Moorlands Macro: Close up and personal....with bug
You could always put your photo's on a blog. The pictures will always be viewable as you can add a link in the members blog section.

Just a thought, what about links that are already on here which navigate to pictures of nesting/nests of birds.

A logistical nightmare for the mods which already do a fantastic job on here.



Out Birding....
United States
While there is debate here for obvious reasons...as anyone with a pair of binos can get within 5 meters easily and we don't debate nor ban their rantings of their sightings, I can also see a need for a ban on certain photos on this site.

If not, there would be a rush to 'top the latest nesting foto' and we would be outwardly encouraging birders to get close to nests / foto op, just by doing nothing to ban them. So banning, while not stopping the practice, at least curbs some negative birding behavior.
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