Wildlife and Nature Photography

My Take On Owl Baiting

11408596914 f515214053 z1 - My Take On Owl Baiting

This Snowy Owl was photographed from the side of the road without exiting the vehicle. It is not an award winning shot by any stretch, but land was not trespassed upon, nor was the owl disturbed. The owl has since been observed multiple times in almost the exact location because it wasn’t approached by observers.

With all the Snowy Owl sightings in our area this winter, the common debate about baiting them for photography has risen again. For those of you who don’t know what baiting is, many photographers will take live mice out into the field and release them near owls and other birds of prey in order to get better shots. Not only can food get the birds closer to a photographer, it can also present what some consider incredible shots. I personally do not bait owls or any bird of prey and do not agree with it for several reasons.

Baiting often takes place near county roads which draws the birds closer to the road resulting in collisions with vehicles. Not only can this cause injury or death to the bird, but to the occupants of the vehicle as well. Wildlife rehabilitation centers treat owls and other types of birds of prey every year with broken wings and other injuries as a result of being hit by cars while swooping down on prey. I viewed several photos last year of a Great Gray Owl in Algonquin Park on a photo sharing website that was being baited by photographers. After a few weeks of photos I read that the bird had been killed in a collision with a car. I can only ask myself if this bird wasn’t baited so close to a road would it have been killed? Perhaps it would have found another area to hunt away from traffic if not encouraged by the handouts. Is the life of such a beautiful bird worth it for a picture?

Photographers who bait owls also tend to walk out in the fields in order to do so. This quite often will spook the birds causing them to fly further away or leave the area completely. Not only does this put added stress on the bird, it ruins the opportunity for other birders and photographers to view the bird. Many websites that report bird sightings have stopped reporting Snowy Owl and Short Eared Owl sightings for this exact reason. I have read multiple reports this winter of Snowy Owl sightings only to read updates later that the owls were chased from the area by photographers. Snowy Owls in particular do not move too far from an area once set up for the winter. They will also return to the same area year after year if not disturbed. If you do not get a look or photo the first time around, keep returning to the spot until you do. The bird will likely be in the same area and if you are patient it will eventually present a good look.

Most photographers that enter farmer’s fields in order to get closer to owls or bait them do not have permission from the land owner and are therefore trespassing. Regardless if you are pro or anti baiting you can’t argue the trespassing debate. If someone walked into your backyard with a camera, binoculars or a handful of seed in order to view a cardinal you would have a problem with it; so what makes it okay on a farm when the house is a kilometer or more away? Fields this time of year can be planted with winter wheat, in which case farmers definitely do not want you in their field.

This is a very sensative subject depending on what side you are on. Photographers who do bait will argue that it is legal to do so and compare it to feeding birds in your backyard. I disagree with the comparison to a bird feeder. I feed songbirds in my yard that typically feed on native seeds, insects, and berries. These three foods are not readily available during winter, therefore I am providing food that is otherwise scarce. In my opinion, offering a Snowy Owl a store bought mouse in an area in close proximity to a city dump is not doing the owl any favours. Why are there so many owls near the dump? My guess is that the dump is a great place to find mice, rats, and gulls; no shortage of food exists for the owls.

Regardless of your position on this subject, try to be respectful of at least one of the following when out searching for owls: other birders, photographers, land owners and of course the owls.

Good birding,

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5 Responses to “My Take On Owl Baiting”

  1. Gillian

    I love the Snowy Owl photo you used for this article! While it may not be “award-winning”, it is very appealing. The setting looks very dramatic: a snow-swept tundra barren of any life, except for the owl. These days, whenever I see a photo of an owl flying toward the camera, I assume the owl was baited, and the photo loses its appeal. I would much rather see or take a photo of an owl sitting sleepily in a tree or waiting on a fence post, acting naturally without any human interference.

    I just don’t understand how people can sacrifice a live, wriggling, sentient mammal for the sake of a photo. We had some Great Gray Owls last winter in Ottawa, and the two times I went out to see it, it was a circus. One of the owls had flown back into the woods after being fed a pet-store mouse shortly before I arrived, denying anyone a chance to see it. The second owl was also being baited, and after its second mouse (that I saw while I was there) it too flew into the woods. Worse, the photographers pursued it. I felt soiled by the experience and wouldn’t have gone back except a friend wanted to see the owls, too. It was not the experience she was looking for, either. There was nothing “natural” about the owl performing on cue like a circus animal. What made it worse is that the baiting was going on all the time, without regard to the people who don’t agree with baiting, so there was no chance to enjoy a peaceful moment watching the owls behaving naturally. The baiters took ownership of those birds from the beginning, and those who didn’t agree with baiting simply chose not to return rather than confront the baiters.

    I definitely agree: we all need to be respectful of the animals, other people, and other people’s property when we go out, whether we are birders or photographers or both.

    • Paul Roedding

      Thanks Scott. I am glad to see there are more people who share my same beliefs than what I realized. I am located in London, Ontario Canada and am currently building a collection of my images in the gallery section of my website.

  2. Richard Beardon

    Hi Paul just started reading your blog and am thoroughly enjoying it so far. i have a question about finding owls – as ofn and many other places seems to be not posting locations (understandable dues to baiters and over enthusiastic pic hunters) where can i learn where to look for them. i’ve traveled to Strathroy and found Snowys and also to Burlington to find Screech owls (found red and grey morphs) but would like to find a Barred owl or any others closer to home if possible. any advice would be gratefully received


    • Paul Roedding

      Hi Rich,

      I am glad to hear that you have discovered my blog and are enjoying it so far. Finding public postings of Owl sightings can be difficult, and many groups are discouraging it, especially in regards to at risk species such as the Short Eared Owl. My best advice for you is to use the eBird species map. Simply type in the species you wish to search for, so in this case Barred Owl, and all of the reported sightings will come up. You can narrow your search by typing in a specific location, so in my case I would type in London, Ontario. Your search can further be narrowed by year. This to me, is by far the best resource for finding birds, as many of the other sites only display rare sightings, whereas this tool lets you search any species anywhere in the world. I have attached the link to the eBird map. I hope this helps.

      Good birding,

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