There are many guidelines for ethical nature photography on the internet (see below). The common theme is that taking great nature photographs should never be at the expense of the subject.
I have borrowed from these guidelines (thanks!) and put together my own code of ethics. Some photographers may regard these rules as unnecessarily strict (eg no call playback unless for scientific/conservation purposes), but they should ask themselves, assuming everyone does it, what is the cumulative impact likely to be? And always remember, as a bird photographer, you do not have any greater right to approach or disturb birds than does an ordinary member of the public.
View birds from a safe distance for both you and them. If the bird interrupts its behaviour (resting, feeding, etc.), then you are too close and must distance yourself.
Don't force an action, crowd, pursue, prevent escape, make deliberate noises to distract, startle or harass birds. This is stressful and wastes valuable energy in needless flight. The impact is cumulative.
Habituation due to handouts can result in disease (poor health because inevitably the bird is not eating its native food) or even death of that bird and injury to you (I remember after the Queensland floods a warning being sent out to people not to try and feed a hungry Southern Cassowary!).
The use of call playback can distress some species and may disrupt feeding and/or breeding activity. It is worth noting here that the use of call playback is (apparently) banned in Germany unless a special permit is obtained for scientific studies. Studies have indicated that call playback can have a negative effect on species: See Simulated Birdwatchers’ Playback Affects the Behavior of Two Tropical Birds.
Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist and NEVER enter areas designated off-limit by the local wildlife/nature conservation authorities. This is particularly true in southern Australia where our native vegetation is under dire threat from the introduced plant disease Phytophthora cinnamomi, commonly known as dieback. In Western Australia, over 50% of our rare or endangered flora species are susceptible to dieback (which affects 40% of native WA plant species). It has already devastated the once floristically rich Stirling Range National Park (yes, it still looks beautiful, but it actually has lost almost half of its plant species to dieback).
It is primarily spread by human activity. The Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife will often close roads during wet weather when the risk of spreading this pathogen is at its highest. For rare birds, such as the Western Ground Parrot, the loss of these plant species is likely to have a devastating effect on the remaining population which is already struggling to overcome the impact of feral predators (cats and foxes) and bushfires.
I never photograph nesting birds or publish such images.
Photographers MUST keep an appropriate distance from nesting birds.
Nesting is the most critical and stressful time in a bird's life.
It is vitally important that photographers keep an appropriate distance from nesting birds so as to ensure that they do not:
In any event, photographers must NOT, in relation to nesting birds:
Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities (eg Night Parrot, Western Ground Parrot). See also article: Rare Bird Sightings: Share or Shut-up?
Use lower intensity spotlights, red filters and direct the light to the side of the subject rather than directly into its eyes.
If we don’t, who else in our community will? To find out more about our threatened birds: See Australia's Endangered Birds. To donate your money or your time, go to:
For more information on ethical birding: