Photo © Keith Williams
Photo © Lynne Marsho

Nest Photography Guidelines

Now that digital cameras are so widely available, NestWatchers have more opportunities than ever to snap photos of those cute little nestlings. Indeed, some NestWatchers feel it is less intrusive to snap a photo of the nest contents and examine it away from the nest than to actually open a nest box or peer into a cup nest. This raises many questions among NestWatchers about the ethics of nest photography. Does it impact birds? Should flash be avoided? Can photos be submitted to NestWatch along with data? Below, we offer some guidelines to help ensure that, when appropriate, photos are taken judiciously and with utmost consideration for nest safety.

First, photos should not be taken every day because the NestWatch protocol stipulates that nests be visited every three to four days, at most. Therefore, photos should not be taken more frequently than your regular nest checks. When it is time for a nest visit, try to keep visits less than one minute. If, after recording your data, you are still under this limit, it is fine to take a picture. Whenever possible, avoid using your flash; if flash is necessary, take only one photo and make sure that there are no nest predators nearby. Never handle the nest contents or remove vegetation to get a better shot; doing so is illegal and can harm the nest. Exercise restraint when taking short videos, and leave the area immediately if the parents are stressed (e.g., alarm-calling, trying to deliver food to nestlings, bill-snapping). If you would like to photograph or film nestlings fledging, do so from a reasonable distance, and use a blind or natural vegetation cover to conceal yourself. Your first priority is the safety of the birds; photography and even data collection are not reason enough to overstay your welcome and stress the birds.

Photos in moderation aren’t a problem for nesting birds, and, as long as the NestWatch Code of Conduct is followed, nesting data won’t be compromised. You can contribute photos to our Flickr page, or via email, but by submitting photos to NestWatch, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will. Keep in mind that photo submissions do not replace data entry—we still need your data! For further reading, the American Birding Association and the North American Nature Photography Association have written codes of ethics which we encourage you to consult.