I regard myself as an acutely ethical wildlife photographer, in much the same vein as some of the greats in the field: Tom Mangelsen, Tin Man Lee, Melissa Groo, Melyssa St. Michael. Perhaps not quite as talented as these phenoms, however I feel similarly passionate about the welfare of my subjects. I will not coerce or cajole my subjects in order to get ‘the shot’.
For me, a lot of the fun with wildlife photography comes about with the technical challenge and fieldcraft required to get myself into a situation where I can photograph my subject with zero impact on its behavior.
I have lived in Southern California for 12 years, and am fortunate to have a home that borders on wilderness. As such, we get a great assortment of wildlife that visits us – mammals, reptiles and lots of birds. We have hummingbird feeders all around the garden to supplement their nectar diet. My wife is a passionate gardener, and we have a plethora of hummingbird attracting flowers and plants (See Attracting Hummingbirds) At the peak of summer, our hummingbird population has exceeded 150, and I have been known to go through 10 gallons of sugar water in a single week! The large population is due to a number of factors:
- We are the only house to have lots of hummer attractive plants and feeders in our neighborhood
- We have a wonderfully natural ‘catchment’ area
- After 12 years of a good food source, word gets around the local hummingbird population, such that they return, and breed close by, and teach their youngsters about our location.
We feel very fortunate to be in the location we are – it affords me a great supply of subjects to photograph. Alas, such a large population of hummingbirds attracts predators too. We have a snakeproof fence, but California Black Racers are able to climb it and are known to hang out in shrubs and trees that might be close to feeders. We also have many jays. Mexican and Southern Scrub jays abound in our area. They are raucous, if pretty. They predate on young hummingbirds in their nests. Did you know that hummingbirds will not nest anywhere near an area where jays are known to hang out? Unfortunately this means we see very few nests at our property – (3 in 12 years!)
And then, there are the roadrunners. These are large, fascinating birds that have a somewhat goofy appearance and demeanor, but man, are they patient and ruthless… In the desert, they will spot a bloom on a cactus (the flower only lasts a day or two, and as such, is a magnet for the local hummers), and sit below it, waiting motionless. When an unsuspecting hummingbird sticks its beak in the flower, the roadrunner will launch and grab it. Astonishing to witness.
Now, feeders are also a magnet for hummingbirds, and a couple of local roadrunners are fully cognizant of that fact. They will sit below a feeder and wait. For hours. Most of the hummingbirds are totally aware of their presence, and will not visit that particular feeder, however every now and again, an unknowing or hapless bird will visit the feeder and the roadrunner will launch. It is incredible to see, and the ‘kill’ rate is only about 1 in 10. Watch the slo-mo video to see it in action….
But this situation is somewhat artificial. I am creating a hummingbird-rich environment. There are an unnaturally large population of hummingbirds, and the roadrunner, being a predator, is taking advantage of that. My wife, my dog and myself ‘shoo’ roadrunners away whenever we see them, but we cannot be around all the time. Nor are they decimating the population by any means – there are many, many hummingbirds.
But as an ‘ethical’ wildlife photographer it puts me in a bit of a dilemma.
I welcome rational, considered comments, however will ignore anthropomorphic emotional ones.