Several weeks ago, after a Snowy Owl was seen (and photographed) at Liberty State Park, New Jersey birders got into a lively debate about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of using flash photography when taking pictures of owls.
Now that Snowy Owls have been seen regularly in the Meadowlands, the debate takes on a little more immediacy.
We asked David Johnson, head of the Global Owl Project, for his thoughts.
Here's the word:
"From a biological perspective, I would not think that the camera flash would be much of an issue," says David. "There is lightning where many of the owls live, and such a flash is very short-lived. The focus should not be on the flash, per se, but rather on the general disturbance of people being close to the owl. " …
Click "Continue reading …" for more of David Johnson's comments on photographing owls.
"Researchers who are working with owls, and have a justified need to take many flash photographs have invariably switched to infra-red cameras, to minimize any potential negative affects of repeated flash photography.
"Banders who handle owls at night (i.e., mist net programs with night banding) have noticed that after owls are brought into a lighted area for banding (and processing), that it takes about 5 minutes for the owls to re-adjust to the darker conditions before release.
"It is hard to tell if this is just because of the lighted area, or because of the (even gentle) handling stress. So, rather than a quick release immediately after processing, the owls are allowed time in a dark area to re-adjust to the night again, and fly off on their own.
"In any event, I personally do not worry much about flash cameras and photographs of owls (wild or captive). 1-2 photographs of an owl using flash cameras might be annoying to the owl, but that's about it.
"However, it is difficult to justify the conservation value of repeated regular flash photography on any given wild owl (I have no problems with repeat photography on captive imprint or rehab owls; the handlers of captive owls can readily tell when enough is enough).
"I actually support photography work, if, in fact, the photos are made available to the general public, and are used for the conservation benefit of the owls.
"We do not have readily-available, high-quality photographs of the majority of the world's owls. Part of the efforts of the Global Owl Project involve the development of a photographic library for owls, such that high-resolution images of owls are put into the public domain …. then, we, the owls, and their conservation, all benefit.
"There is growing evidence between Snowy Owls and climate change (with substantive negative effects on Snowy Owls). If indeed, the photography on the N.J. Snowy Owl can be put to public benefit, then we all have much to gain from the potential disturbance to this owl."
— David H. Johnson, Center for Biological Diversity, Director – Global Owl Project