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Photographic conduct around wild birds in rehabilitation

Updated: Jul 17, 2019


Release of ducks at Western Springs, Auckland, NZ

This is a topic that is close to my heart as I so often see inappropriate videos and photographs of wildlife placed under unnecessary stress because someone wants to display their knowledge and experience. Please don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful when an individual has an opportunity to display what it is they do and how they do it. Moments like this should not to be missed BUT this ‘moment’ should be the time to use that platform to correctly educate people, not a platform to show off.

Grey Warbler chick hiding at the back of its recovery cage

When working with wildlife one should always, and I really mean always, have the animals’ best interests in the forefront of your mind.


When birds come into care they are not there at their choosing, they are there because they’re unwell. They have been subjected to physical stressors of injury or illness, capture, transport and this is compounded by coming into an environment that is alien to them. This is obviously made worse every time they are handled during cleaning, medicating, feeding and being examined. In their eye’s we are a predator! Yes, despite our best intentions we are seen as a predator by most wildlife and under all this stress we expect them to heal and recover! As a rehabilitator I didn’t always get it right, and I am probably my own biggest critic, but I always made it my mission to keep learning and understand how to do things correctly.


2003 - Mandy holding a juvenile Kingfisher (this is not an appropriate photo)

When it comes to photographing or videoing, always explain the “why” of what you are doing – then you will be educating those who don’t understand, and hopefully avoid misunderstanding and inappropriate footage.

Bird being moved outside after having its cage cleaned

These are some tips to keep in mind when demonstrating something for the camera:

  • No flash

  • Keep noise to a minimum

  • Do not pet, stroke, cuddle, talk to or hand-feed a wild bird in photos or videos

  • Explain to any assistants what the plan of action is going to be and what they need to do prior to fetching the bird

  • Handle the bird with the correct PPE i.e. wear protective eye gear if handling a bird such as heron

  • If capturing wildlife use the correct equipment i.e. a net or towel

  • Take the photo or video at the same time as necessary activities i.e. feeding or transferring to an aviary

  • Keep talking to the minimum, plenty of time afterward to explain the what, how and why

  • Keep to the facts – it is best to say nothing at all than something that is incorrect or misleading

  • Only the people working with the birds should be handling them

  • Keep the cages of other birds covered so they are not put under unnecessary stress

  • Explain to those watching that it is important to put the well-being of the wildlife first. After all it is why we rehabilitate wildlife isn’t it?

Shining Cuckoo being released

To read further, I recommend an article that was written by Sue Wylie, former IWRC President, re-published by WReNNZ. It is an excellent article that highlights the need for careful consideration before showing an image to the public via the media - A picture speaks a thousand words.


Thanks for reading!

Written by Mandy Robertson

Wildlife Rehabilitator

(All photos are the copyright of Wild Bird Care – NZ)


Learn Bird Care was co-founded by Dr Janelle Ward and Mandy Robertson. Learn Bird Care offer specialist online courses on wild bird rescue,1st aid and care.


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