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Photo © Al Tuttle

Can I take photos of a nest?

Taking photos in moderation is not a problem for nesting birds, and as long as the NestWatch Code of Conduct is followed, disturbance remains low. Photos should not be taken every day because the NestWatch protocol stipulates that nests be visited every 3–4 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 to 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 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 stress the birds.

You can add up to three photos to each nest visit that you report to NestWatch. You can also submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery, but by submitting photos to us, 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. Read the full terms and conditions here. Keep in mind that photo submissions complement, but 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.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology