[Tweeters] Birds and photography - a new study

Matt Bartels mattxyz at earthlink.net
Fri Apr 1 04:29:15 PDT 2016

This surprised me, and I thought I’d share.

Contrary to so much discussion on our list, it appears that birds actually like being photographed and watched closely.

A recent study in Britain compared two groups of birds. One was repeatedly photographed, stared at with binoculars and generally ‘intruded’ upon. The other was left fully alone. The results: Over time, the birds facing photographers and other intruders were healthier, longer-lived, and successfully fledged more young. The result persisted and was replicated over multiple repetitions of the study, across many different species of bird.

Scientists speculate that the same tendency to produce gaudy plumage and display -- a sort of avian narcissism -- is responsible for this bias towards being observed.

I’ll leave the science to the experts, but I wonder how it might affect our discussions here? I’ve long avoided bringing a camera along on my birding adventures – some of this was just for convenience, but I liked to think maybe I was treading with a lighter footprint by not pushing to get closer for photos. Perhaps all along my behavior has been selfish and I should get into photography after all?

Will those who have written so strongly against the “big honkin’ lens” set now reconsider? Many of us are drawn to birding in part because of the allure of observing but not intruding – if we learn that intruding is actually better for nature, are we willing to change our own behavior? Or will we find that our behavior is driven more by our preferences than our concern for birds’ well-being? After a revelation as radical as this, it would seem that maybe a little more humility is called for when we next find ourselves eager to scold others on the list for other behavior we find obviously ‘wrong...’ Then again, maybe the next study will prove that being intemperate on the internet is somehow valuable - anything is possible—

You never know what science will prove next!

Matt Bartels
Seattle, WA

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