Thursday, February 01, 2007

More about Baiting Wild Owls

The following comment was received...

"People should be educated, not criticized. Feeding the owl is not the dangerous thing on its own feeding it near the road is very dangerous. Boreal owls are very friendly by nature, just like the great gray owls. They have a tendency to get closer to humans since they are not afraid of people. If it was a bad thing for them to be fed mice from people, this would be illegal. Since it is not illegal, one can assume that it is not what's dangerous on its own. People say they can find their own food. oh sure, but the simple fact that they are there just show that they had to move because they could NOT find their food and had to move south. If they can find their own food so well..when why do they come rushing to catch the mice that people offer them? They like to hide their food and store them for harsh time. It's in their nature and there must be a good reason for that. Maybe their survival rely on plenty of food source stored and if that's the case, having more mice is a blessing. People just have to learn to do it the right way and keep the owl away from the dangerous road. Here in Quebec when people feed the snowy and yes we do have northern hawk owls too, we do it far from the roads. Here too it is not illegal to feed the birds, just like it is not illegal to give seeds to birds."

The argument I see most often employed in justifying the baiting of owls with live rodents for photography is to point out that feeding backyard birds is ethical, therefore the practice of baiting for all birds, regardless of species, habitat or type of bait, must also be ethically permissible. A related argument used is that baiting them isn't illegal, so it must be okay - otherwise it would be against the law, right?

Part of the problem with the former argument is it assumes that boreal owls can be treated in the same manner as birds like Northern Cardinals or House Finches - species that have habituated around people for over a hundred years and have most likely benefited (numbers-wise) from backyard bird feeding. If they really are the same (boreal owls and certain songbirds), then what we can say about one, we should be able to say about the other with nothing left over, so I encourage you to stand out in the middle of a field with a feeder full of safflower to lure in those owls. Just make sure there are no rules, laws or ordinances using birdseed in an ecologically sensitive natural area that might disrupt native flora.

Going along with providing backyard birds food to eat is the responsibility of offering them fresh seed in clean feeders. Since there are many diseases birds can die from by eating moldy birdseed or taking food from feeders that aren't routinely cleaned, a question of ethics can also be regarded and respected. The same can be true of using rodents acquired from a pet store and subsequently fed to owls. In one sad case I'm aware of, a rehabilitation center unwittingly provided a bad batch of live rodents to their clinic birds and an education Bald Eagle. The rodents were diseased and several rehab birds perished, including the eagle. This particular center now removes the intestines from prey food to prevent diseases like salmonella. Can you personally guarantee that rodents offered to a bird of prey, just to lure it in for a photograph, are free of diseases that may harm or kill it?

While on the subject of treating things as equals, how about the ethics of releasing a pet store rodent into the wild? Is it ethically permissible to release an exotic gerbil or hamster into the wild, just because they're rodents or perhaps a ferret or chinchilla just because they've come from a pet store? Depending on laws in your area, it may actually be illegal (without proper credentials) to release or relocate any mammal, wild or exotic. When releasing live rodent bait, there's a possibility the critter will escape its intended "photo-op" purpose and subsequently have to deal with an environment it's genetically unsuited for, and again, create the potential of introducing harmful diseases or parasites to native fauna.

The risk isn't worth the reward.

Rather than spend time and energy defending the practice of baiting wild owls with live rodents, I recommend rising to a greater challenge in nature photography – see if you can do it without the extra help...hone your field craft and study the birds. By becoming an expert on bird behavior, you'll discover you won't need to bait owls in order to get a nice picture. Sure, I occasionally take photographs of birds in my backyard, but it never matches the sense of accomplishment I feel when coming off the field with a great shot of an unbaited, wild bird.

Great Gray Owl image © 2007 Mike McDowell

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the write up :D LOVE the last paragraph...I love to wait and watch and