We should all observe good raptor viewing etiquette, not only during the nesting season, but also during migration and the winter months when many raptors will gather together in good hunting areas.
Snowy owls are migrating and are in the usual haunts along the coast in New England. Check out the picture with this Facebook post from Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. This is a great example of what NOT to do!
Our mere presence can alter an animal’s natural behavior. Always keep the mantra “do no harm” in mind whenever you unintentionally come upon wild animals doing their thing or when intentionally wanting to photograph an animal in their habitat. Do no harm.
If your presence causes that raptor (or any wild animal) to move and / or act in a way that animal would not if you weren’t there, you are too close.
Birds will communicate with body language, including showing signs of stress! Here are a couple you might see in a wild bird:
- Raised hackles (feathers on the top of head and back of the neck)
- Droopy or outstretched wings, almost like they want to take off
- Change in posture (i.e. was comfortably resting with one foot tucked, then suddenly puts that foot down and looks around)
Remember that raptors are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and bald and golden eagles have additional protections under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
- Respect landowners and do not trespass.
- If you see raptors on the ground, do not approach or feed.
- USFWS mandates safe viewing of bald eagle nests of at least 330 ft away.
Read up on viewing and photography ethics: