Some Ethigull Questions « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Some Ethigull Questions


I got a lot accomplished on Friday. And did lots of balloon blowing up exercises. I ordered a new full face mask for snorkeling on my upcoming trip to Cayman Brac to photograph nesting Brown Boobies. I got home yesterday and I will be flying on Wednesday. Thanks to the folks who posted understanding comments on the Splash Landing and Apologies to the many … blog post here. They have restored my faith in humanity πŸ™‚ BTW, my apologies there were intended to be tongue in cheek. πŸ™‚

This coming weekend, I will, in addition to catching up on e-mails, be working on the Gatorland and DeSoto IPT announcements as well. I sent out the advance Master Class info to those who requested it. It looks as if three of the eight slots are spoken for. Please shoot me an e-mail if you are interested.

There are two openings on the spoonbill IPT. Click here for complete info. If anyone would like to join me shooting spoonbills for 1 1/2 days, February 19 (full day) and February 20 (morning session only), please get in touch via e-mail.

The Streak

Today makes one hundred eighty-seven days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took about 30 minutes to prepare. With all of my upcoming free time (or not …), the plan right now is to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections and my continuing insanity willing.


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Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created on the last morning of the 2nd San Diego IPT with the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens (at 500mm) and the mega mega-pixel Nikon D850 DSLR.. ISO 400. Matrix metering : 1/1600 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode was about zero EC as framed. AWB at 7:44am in early morning light.

Group (grp)/Shutter Button AF. Click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

Western Gull, first winter landing

Exposure Note

With yesterday’s (very popular) Splash Landing image of an adult Western Gull, I was at 1/4000 sec. at f/6.3. For today’s image of a young Western Gull, I was at 1/1600 sec. at f/6.3. Two of those clicks (from 1/4000 sec. to 1/2500 sec. were because the sun was stronger at 8:22am than it was at 7:44am. Why did I go an additional two clicks lighter (2/3 stop) for the young gull?

Some Ethigull Questions

The landing adult Western Gull in yesterday’s blog post and the landing young bird featured here today were attracted into photographic range with tossed bits of wadded up bread. #1: In places where this is legal, would you consider it an unethical practice?

Note that baiting like this is not in violation of the rules of many major photographic contests.

#2: If you substituted fish as the bait, would that change your opinion?

#3: If there is a gull standing right in front of a gorgeous pelican do you feel that it is OK to toss a scrap of bread into a crevice to get the gull out of the frame?

#4: How about tossing a pebble. (That often works quite well.)

#5: If a bird is looking away from you or has its eye closed, are you OK with making a squeaking sound in hopes of creating a stronger image?

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41 comments to Some Ethigull Questions

  • avatar Mike

    What a can of worms this is. To me, the issue is not so much the practice but where do you draw the line?

    Ignoring the health benefits of various types of bait, if you were to say baiting is wrong then is it wrong to grow sunflowers in your garden to attract finches? Or is that ‘natural behaviour’ whereas eating from a feeder is somehow ‘unnatural’.
    Or if you happen across someone’s garden that has feeders in it and you see a mother feeding their young, does your photograph become ethical because someone else had ‘baited’ them?
    Or a kite feeding on roadkill as opposed to a rabbit carcass you threw in your local woodland?
    One of the best bear-watching places in North America is Knights Inlet where 20 years ago they built an artificial spawning channel specifically to help re-introduce wild salmon and rebuild the local bear population, and it provides and excellent opportunity for some wildlife shots….now that is baiting on a massive scale!!

    At its core, why is baiting unethical? Because it makes the photograph ‘too easy’ – the hair shirt brigade who believe you have to suffer for your rewards (I have to admit this is part of wildlife photography I enjoy in dong it ‘the hardway’ but I wish others all the best in their preferred way of dong things). Or is it the risks of making birds change their behaviour?

    Bird calls, on the other and, are something I would not do. I can imagine it is quite stressful for a bird to respond only to find no mate or confused as to where the territorial challenge is.

  • avatar Neil Hickman

    Nobody has mentioned the example which may be set and followed. What if one person does something and gets great pictures. If ten people then copy is that a problem? However with the internet and a very popular blog thousands can be potentially influenced. It was very difficult to photograph Grass Wrens in outback Australia. Once somebody played their calls and broadcast the locations on the web 100’s turned up and many stories of photographic groups attracting each other with calls were reported. The biggest trap is that if I do “it” now and again it is OK. That is the first step down a very rocky road. “Ethics” – now there’s a word! How many people throwing food to birds in one location would be problem? There is only one answer to that – ethically!

  • avatar Richard Curtin

    #1. No
    PS. They really like Cheerios…

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Good suggestion πŸ™‚ I am seriously thinking of some type of nutritious cat or dog food pellets for the gulls.

      with love, arite

  • avatar Chase Moxley

    Anyone whose trash goes to a landfill is probably guilty of feeding wildlife. Just my 2 cents. I don’t think I would feed a bird to get a better shot. Perhaps people should learn to be part of a discussion…with fewer abrupt reactions/judgements.

  • avatar William Maroldo

    Artie, I thought feeding birds a bread only diet is what people where getting excited about, certainly not occasionally throwing a piece of bread to a bird.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Bill. I thought that that might be where you were going. Sorry that I missed your tongue in cheek πŸ™‚

      with love, artie

  • avatar William Maroldo

    I totally missed the part where someone was force feeding a bread only diet to birds. Pretty well rules out feeding suet to winter birds, after all we all know what happens to humans when they are fed a suet only diet. I think feeding gulls should be banned as well, and the little kid’s joyous expressions while doing such activity should be redirected to something like swallowing Tide pods, something I’m pretty sure they saw some adult doing.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I too missed the part about force feeding a bread-only diet to birds. Where did you see that?

      What is a Tide pod?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Bob Smith

    In my opinion all these answers about what is ethical and what is unethical should be preceded by the words “In my opinion…..”.

  • Oh My! Artie, you’ve really opened a can of worms here. πŸ˜‰

  • avatar Jeff Birkeson

    This seems to be a topic that excites a lot of strong emotions. I’m curious, however, if anyone
    can cite published evidence – pro or con – on whether or not bread is actually harmful to birds? Googling suggests that there are a lot of sites that say that it is, but no one is linking to any actual scientific studies that show evidence for that assertion.

    Nutrition is a subject that is poorly understood in humans, so this isn’t all that surprising that it’s similarly confusing for animals, I suppose.

  • avatar Derek Courtney

    1.) Yes it is unethical
    2.) Still unethical
    3.) This also seems pretty unethical
    4.) Seems even more unethical
    5.) Depends on the situation.

    Kudos for broaching ethical questions, which seems to be utterly lacking in most bird photography forums

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Derek,

      Thanks for sharing your opinions. May I assume that your problem is with attracting the birds with food and that you would be against baiting gulls with fish?

      As I asked Tony below, are you aware that most major photographic contests allow images of birds that were baited or attracted with water or with audio playback of their calls?

      with love, artie

      • avatar Derek Courtney

        Thanks for the reply Artie. Yes, my problems with photographing birds in the manner outlined has to do with baiting birds at all. It is just unethical. Regardless of whether you disclose the fact, as you do, or hide the fact as seemingly most photographers do. My contention isn’t due to the possible nutritional advantages of one versus the other, rather the practice itself.

        Yes, I am aware. I do not enter most “major photographic contests” for a variety of reasons, but that is one of them. It would be so much better if these major contests which exist, ostensibly, to honor the best photographers and promote the best in photography did not have criteria which met only the basement level of ethics. It’s always bothered me that many contests and professional photographers have such strict “ethics” for how and what you can do with a computer to process your files, but really don’t care at all as to how you got them.

        Thanks again.

  • avatar Mark Terpstra

    I agree 100% with Tony Botelho and certainly applaud his response. How can any of you know for certain that the bread is not causing discomfort or harm to the birds? Anyone calling themselves a wildlife photographer should care first and foremost about the wildlife, not about themselves and the shot they can “bag”. Perhaps your tossing bread to the birds was done out-of-ignorance???

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I was ignorant that bread might be harmful. Thanks to some of the comments made here today I shall refrain from feeding bread to ducks and gulls.

      with love, artie

      ps: Please see my questions to him and feel free to respond to those.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for the two links Christine. The two articles deal with feeding bread to gulls. Thanks to your links, I will refrain from feeding bread to ducks and gulls in the future but will bait them with healthier food choices.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Tony Botelho

    Hi Tony, Thanks for commenting.

    I have major problems with people feeding wildlife any food, not to mention processed people food.

    Please be aware that at some refuge like Bosque del Apache NWR corn and other crops are grown specifically to feed the birds. Are you OK with that?

    Not to mention that human farming over the past three centuries has had dramatic sometimes catastrophic impacts on wildlife overpopulation.

    Do we track a birds life to be able to say, “it does not harm them”? There has been many studies that show that highly processed foods hurt humans, overweight, diabetes, etc.

    Agree. Can you say Oreos? I will be changing the way that I do some thing. I will no longer be feeding bread to ducks.

    As for the statement these gulls eat our waste foods from garbage cans, and dumps so what harm does it do to give them more makes no sense to me? It never felt right to me when I found out that you baited wildlife, so you could get a better photograph.

    Does that “you” refer to me alone or to others who feed wildlife to get better photographs?

    Are you OK with folks who photograph at bird feeder set-ups?

    Are you aware that most major photographic contests allow images of birds that were baited or attracted with water or with audio playback of their calls?

    Just like it doesn’t feel right to keeps wildlife in captivity for our own viewing pleasure. I don’t see much difference photographing animals in a zoo than photographing them while they have been baited.

    You are entitled to your opinion. I would not equate the two.

    I know that many people will always justify their means to an end. As I see many of your blog readers today justify feeding birds unnatural processed foods for their own benefit, and to have the gall to say, “I don’t see how it hurts them”. How do they know, are they doing a case study? I don’t think so.

    I also feel strongly about throwing small pebbles (rocks) at birds. What message does this say to people that see this and think that this is an okay thing to do. Little Johnny is now throwing rocks at birds because he saw adults doing it when we were in California.

    With all due respect, tossing a small pebble into a crevice is not exactly the same as throwing a rock at a bird.

    Yes, this is hypothetic, but a possible fact.

    I have followed your blog for many years, and have thanked you for having it by using your B&H link for all my photograph needs.

    Your having done so was always greatly appreciated.

    I thank you again for having it, this is the point that we part company. I wish you well with your health issues. Try to stay off bread and you will be healthier.

    You are welcome. You are of course free to visit the blog or not visit the blog as is your want. As a diabetic, I rarely eat any bread. For about seven years I ate none. My last A1C was 5.0 so I am doing quite well.

    with love, artie

    ps: I have learned a lot from some of the comments here so I am glad that I raised the questions that I did.

    • Hi Tony, you really feel that people should never feed any wild animals any food? There are a great many people who have seed feeders in there gardens in the UK. The birds eat what they want. Depending on season, sometimes they leave the feeders alone, presumably because they have plenty of their usual food available. In the winter time, feeders are often empty quite quickly. With the commercial pressure on farmland and the tearing out of hedgerows and field margins, numbers of birds in UK are falling. Especially so in the countryside. People feeding songbirds is helping them under the circumstances they face from these other human activities.
      I think that these conversations are interesting and worthwhile, but I don’t agree that these issues are so black and white.
      Very best regards, Clive

  • Hey Arthur, Nice pose on the gull and really like that blue background.

    1. Nope
    2. Nope
    3. Yes
    4. Yes
    5. Yes

    I do these things all the time. My local bakery gives its old bread away for free. I have had people tell me not to feed the birds white bread because it is not nutritional. Thats why i always make sure to get the whole grain organic bread. Down by the lake their are always gulls hanging around the trash bins.

  • avatar Mike Cristina

    I sometimes feed my wild painted turtles bread. They much prefer white over whole wheat. Must be the sugar. Or, maybe they prefer softer over coarser. They also like the crust removed. Picky little things

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. First a question about yesterday’s gull. Did you follow it in flight until it landed, or were you able to focus on it starting as it landed?

    I followed it in for a bit.

    On the ethics question, I guess all of those things are unethical at some level, but the question for me is whether they are bad enough to outweigh the benefit to me of getting a good photo. After all, I eat animals, and that’s far worse for them than throwing a pebble or piece of bread or a fish to change a bird’s position or pose. I do draw a line for nesting birds or birds rearing young; no disturbance for them.


    I prefer to photograph birds in totally natural situations but I have done things to slightly change their behavior.

    We do that to some degree when we walk out the door or drive around a refuge …

    with love, artie

  • avatar Steven Stadler

    In places like the Lake Superior shore in Duluth MN, or Lake Michigan / Lake Huron shore near the Mackinac Bridge, I remember some occasions, where trying to eat your french fries was just plane impossible without being attacked by the hungry gulls in the area, because they have learned that french fries are tasty treats. I’ve observed young kids dropping their whole box of french fries and running away terrified because the gulls aren’t as cautious around smaller people. So, just another dimension to think about, training un-natural behavior into a wild animal. It’s been part of human behavior since the beginning, and for the most part it is tolerable and enjoyable, and if you are in a relatively remote area, you may not end up with the french fry issue, but in more congested areas, that is why there are signs that say “Please do not feed the gulls”. Once again, there is the common sense factor. Ask yourself, “Am I going to cause problems for the next visitor that encounters this gull?”
    Making a noise to cause a head turn seems more interactive and observant of a natural reaction to their environment than the training of a new habit.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Steven, Thanks for commenting. Yes, gulls can be aggressive at times. I remember once at Gosman’s Dock Restaurant in Montauk, LI, when a Herring Gull swooped down and flew off with a whole cold lobster!

      But neither of our stories has much to do with the questions at hand in today’s post πŸ™‚

      with love, artei

  • As long as the birds are not harmed and their behavior is typical, I see no harm in providing small amounts of food to attract them, but I am less comfortable with tossing things at them to chase them off only because of the possibility of accidentally hitting them.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Keith. To move a gull I used a tiny piece of bread tossed in a gully in front of the bird. Same with a small pebble so no danger of hitting them πŸ™‚

      with love, artie

  • avatar Gary Irwin

    Artie, in general I’m kind of agnostic when it comes to “tweaking” the situation to get a good shot and don’t have any particular concerns with the situations you posed with gulls. (That said. it is my understanding that bread is not good for wildlife — too much refined carbohydrates which is atypical from what they would normally have access to in a natural environment, though admittedly scavengers like Gulls seem to be able to tolerate it.)

    I have feeders in my backyard for seed eaters and use a caller to draw birds to me in the wild, but I draw the line where I think excessive human interaction has the potential to permanently change a birds behaviour. Rightly or wrongly, the baiting of raptors is one such example of that IMO.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Gary. Yes, the gulls have been feasting at garbage dumps for many decades and have been doing just fine. White bread is actually much worse for humans than for gulls. I buy whole wheat when I can. In PHX several of the parks specified no bread so I bought bags of organic Chocolate/Maple granola. The ducks did not like it a lot but I and the folks photographing with me loved it.

      The line you draw is a fine one and the word permanently does not make a lot of sense to me. With the raptors are you referring to using live mice or live birds or to using a fake owl on a pole?

      with love, artie

      • avatar Gary Irwin

        I’ve also used an owl decoy to attract migrating raptors but any interaction is occasional at best and very brief…lasting a handful of seconds as the raptor “attacks” the decoy and then continues on it’s way…completely natural and no harm done. I’m referring to the practice of using live bait, which if done repeatedly can habituate birds — particularly raptors — to associate food with humans where they lose their fear and will fly towards people looking for food…a not all-that uncommon sight in certain locals up here with Snowy Owls during the winter. To me, that’s changing behaviour in an unnatural and undesirable way. JMO of course.

  • avatar Joel Eade

    I think birds have more effect on us than we do on them….heck you just shucked all your Canon stuff and are buying into a whole new system to advance your flight imaging skills…..makes me think the birds influence us in big ways πŸ™‚

    All kidding aside I seriously doubt bread is harmful to birds.

  • avatar Warren H

    Why did I go an additional two clicks lighter (2/3 stop) for the young gull?

    The young gull is much darker than the bright white of the adult gull. Therefore, you need to be exposed a little brighter for the darker gull.

    • avatar Warren H

      I just looked at the adult image from yesterday. The background is also much lighter in brightness. This would definitely cause a need for the brighter exposure.

      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Thanks Warren,

        This is correct: “The young gull is much darker than the bright white of the adult gull. Therefore, you need to be exposed a little brighter for the darker gull.”

        But your second answer is incorrect because I was in manual mode and thus the BKGR does not effect the meter πŸ™‚

        with love, artie

  • avatar Mike

    Baiting is not the same as feeding, in legal terms.

    Many ways to look at it I guess. If 10 people are throwing bread to a gull to get a picture, and filling it up, I have a problem with that. Of course, if someone left a loaf of bread on the beach and one gull ate the whole thing, I’d have a problem with that too.

    Don’t overfeed, don’t do it in an unsafe manner (for the bird)

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for the link to the sign. I can understand the no feeding bread recommendations at lakes but they would not apply to the ocean. Especially since the gulls get every last crumb. In addition, I have never seen any proof that eating bread has ever made a bird sick.

      with love, artie

      ps: how do you stand on attracting gulls with fish?

  • avatar Larry Rudnick

    No issues for me. Feeding birds, whether in the backyard at a feeder, in a park or at a beach, has been done (and encouraged) with no adverse effects on the birds. My only concerns would be that the food offered is suitable and that the interaction doesn’t cause or encourage any adverse behavior. In the gull’s case, fish would probably be better for the gull but bread might be OK (I’m not an ornithologist).

    I can envision situations where baiting should not be done, but this case seems OK to me.

  • avatar Winn K

    This choice seems to be a conundrum similar to birders, where there are differing opinions…
    Some give off a recorded bird call to view a bird to put on their “life-list” rather than the challenge of viewing them in their ordinary life habits. Personally, I prefer my photos reflect capturing them in their natural life space and actually, with some frequency, serendipity rewards my patience with a more interesting photo anyway.