I was back home in the Niagara Region for Thanksgiving this year and the last thing I thought I’d come across is a Bald Eagle. I was up at the Balls Falls Thanksgiving Festival and a local bird sanctuary had a dozen or so birds of prey showing off the work the shelter is doing.
Some people claim it’s cruel to take pictures of animals in captivity, but I’ve seen the situation from both sides and don’t find it objectionable at all. All these birds would have been dead without the aid of the bird sanctuary, many of them were brought in injured or from abandoned nests. The ones that can be reintroduced into the wild are, and the remaining ones are now too tame to be set free. If they can help raise money to keep shelters like this one running, I see nothing wrong there. The handler even told me some of the birds crave the attention and get jealous when other birds are placed closer to people in the viewing area.
I’ve also seen what happens when photographers try too hard to get “natural” shots. Habitat gets disturbed… animals get stressed out from people too close to their homes and people get attacked by said stressed animals. Many bird species will even completely abandon nests that have been contaminated by outsiders. Don’t get me wrong, there are many amazing and conscientious nature photogs out there, but many more that aren’t. And you have to really get right in an animals face to get shots like the ones I got.
To give you an idea, the shot above was taken with a fairly long lens from about five feet away. Even the best telephoto lens the commonly used by birding photogs would only double… maybe triple that distance. So if this eagle was in it’s nest, 100ft up a cliff, I would have had to do some serious encroaching to get this ‘au naturel’. It might surprise you how many of those iconic nature shots are actually taken at zoos, shelters and special “photo farms” that specializing in letting photographers take natural looking shots in completely controlled indoor and outdoor “studios” with tame animals. You can see more of my birds of prey shots on Flickr.