What does a stressed owl look like? If you’re one of many amateur wildlife photographers who snap images of snowy owls, you could be unwittingly contributing to it.
According to the Bangor Daily News, several social media groups are actively banning photographs of snowy owls in a bid to protect the birds from disturbances.
The Facebook group Maine Wildlife is one such group instigating the ban. With over 127,000 members, their reach is quite broad. Allegedly the issue was first brought up by a few professional photographers in the group.
“There have been several instances where at least a dozen people were too close to the owls, so they would fly off to get a shot of them flying,” Troy Dyer, the group Admin, told Newsweek. “[Owls] need to save their energy to hunt, and if they expend a lot of energy flying off, they could possibly die from exhaustion/hunger.”
In 2021 snowy owls were labeled as “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. This is the last step before a species becomes officially endangered due to population numbers declining. According to Smithsonian magazine, snowy owl numbers have been in rapid decline since 2013, largely due to habitat loss in the Arctic regions. There are currently just 30,000 adults remaining in the North American region.
Part of the issue appears to be that snowy owls roost out in the open during the day. This makes them particularly vulnerable to people seeking to photograph them and capture those iconic wildlife shots.
Essentially, I don’t think that this is an issue about amateur versus professional photographers. I have actually met plenty of amateur wildlife photographers who put the wildlife first and are clearly extremely knowledgeable about the animals and their habits. What it boils down to is respecting wildlife.
Don’t disturb it just to get ‘the shot’. Maybe you have to stake it out for hours in order to see it fly off. That’s all part and parcel of wildlife photography. You need patience. You’ll get much better photos and you’ll be helping to conserve the very thing you’re photographing too.
What do you think? Is this nannying, or is it essential to educate others?