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Inspiring and Supporting Photographers of Australian Birds

  • Masked Lapwing (Image ID 20607)

    Masked Lapwing.   Photographer: Ian Wilson

  • Superb Fairy-wren (Image ID 43769)

    Superb Fairy-wren.   Photographer: Rob Solic

  • Silver Gull (Image ID 30450)

    Silver Gull.   Photographer: Emmy Silvius

  • Australian Pelican (Image ID 38343)

    Australian Pelican.   Photographer: Ian Wilson

  • Eurasian Coot (Image ID 34959)

    Eurasian Coot.   Photographer: Linda Unwin

BirdLife Photography Policy for Nesting Bird Photography and the use of Call Playback to Observe and/or Photograph Native Birds - Code of Ethics


Birds are in a daily fight for survival. Any injury or stress-induced illness will almost certainly result in death. Predators are everywhere; breeding is competitive and finding food imperative.

Further, our climate is changing and habitat is being cleared at a relentless rate. In concert, the number of bird photographers has increased phenomenally in the last two decades. The actions of photographers cannot be viewed in isolation. The more photographers there are, the greater the potential for impacting the daily existence of our birds. The effects of an ever increasing human population as well as an increasing photographic community must be regarded as cumulative.

In compiling these ethical guidelines, the BirdLife Photography Committee believes it is important to apply the internationally recognised "Precautionary Principle", which has been incorporated into Australian environmental law under s391 of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and is defined as follows:

"The precautionary principle is that lack of full scientific certainty [eg in relation to the impact of call playback on bird species] should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent degradation of the natural and cultural heritage of a reserve or zone where there is a threat of serious or irreversible damage."

By following the ethical guidelines set out below, BirdLife Photography members will ensure that their activities do not adversely affect the ongoing welfare of native Australian birds. It should also be noted that for BirdLife Photography members these guidelines on Nesting Bird Photography and Call Playback supersede any corresponding sections in the BirdLife Australia Ethical Birding Guidelines.


Summary: Photographs that are NOT accepted for public viewing in any BirdLife Photography gallery, are those that depict any phase of nesting as defined below, including photos of nests with eggs or chicks, whether a parent bird is present or not.

Photographs of fledglings are accepted but great care must still be undertaken to ensure that the fledglings are NOT exposed to the elements or predators and that the time to capture an image is brief. There are no metrics to prescribe the time spent photographing a fledgling bird nor an acceptable approach distance. The most reliable guide is that the fledgling(s) and parent bird behaviours are not impacted by your presence; in other words the birds go about their normal daily activities unhindered.

Definition of ‘nesting birds’

For the purpose of this BirdLife Photography policy statement, ‘nesting birds’ is defined as the period from the start of nest building, through egg-laying, incubation and rearing of the chicks until the last young bird in a nest has fledged. A fledgling (whether it be an atricial or precocial chick – these terms are described elsewhere) is described as any young bird that has left the nest permanently.

Photographers MUST keep an appropriate distance from nesting birds.

Nesting is the most critical and stressful time in a bird's life.

It is vitally important that photographers keep an appropriate distance from nesting birds so as to ensure that they do not:

  • accidentally, or deliberately, cause damage to the nest or nest site;
  • cause nest desertion or stress to the nesting adults or nestlings;
  • attract predators to the nest site; and/or
  • remain at a distance from the nest site, which elicits a behavioural response from the nesting bird(s) - such as ‘broken wing’ response or the nesting bird not returning immediately to the nest.

In any event, photographers must NOT, in relation to nesting birds:

  • damage or trample vegetation that results in exposing a nest;
  • startle a bird as that may cause it to accidentally break or eject the eggs or cause the premature eruption of young from the nest;
  • ‘garden’ the area around the nest by removing branches or other objects which may block a clear view of the nest thus increasing the exposure of the nesting birds to adverse weather and to predation;
  • modify the nest or its approaches in order to force the bird into a more photogenic position;
  • linger too long in the bird’s core territory;
  • visit nests in early mornings, dusk or inclement weather when any desertion by a parent may result in the eggs/young becoming cold;
  • use call playback in the vicinity of a nesting bird which causes the bird to leave the nest to respond to the playback;
  • use flash on a nesting bird;
  • show undue attention to an otherwise well-camouflaged nest (eg birds nesting on the beach or in dense foliage);
  • walk to the nest and back along the same path, leaving a dead-end trail; and/or
  • act contrary to the law (see relevant sections in Appendix A, available in the downloadable version of this document).


Summary: Photographers submitting photos to the digital image library must confirm that bird call playback has NOT been used to attract birds for observation or photographic purposes.

Definition of ‘bird call playback’

The technique of bird call playback involves the use of any device, either analog or digital, that plays a part or full repertoire of bird song, which has been obtained either as a commercial product or recorded to a device for private use.

The evidence and issues for prohibiting this technique for attracting birds

The issues underlying the impacts of using bird call playback for observing and photographing birds are diverse and continue to be researched and debated. Call playback is an emotive topic, hence the arguments often raised to support the pro-case for this technique are based more upon anecdotal observations and ‘emotions’ rather than the available scientific evidence. Nonetheless, there are data showing that call playback has an impact on bird behaviour and therefore has the potential to affect the well-being of birds.

Why has BirdLife Photography prohibited the use of bird call playback?

  • relevant scientific evidence;
  • agreement with the ethical principles of other national and international ornithological/environmental organisations that have prohibited the use of bird call playback;
  • adoption of the ‘Precautionary Principle’ until more evidence becomes available.

In summary, the current scientific evidence shows that:

  • vocalisations, aggressive behaviours and territorial disputes increase in many species, even after short durations (minutes) of call playback;
  • call playback affects mate choice by females in certain species and female nesting behaviour in other species;
  • in species that do eventually habituate to call playback, this can be greater than 12 days even with constant call playback exposure, during which time birds expend energy and time not devoted to nesting, caring for their young, foraging, seeking mates and/or adequately defending their territory.

Therefore, BirdLife Photography members must NOT:

  • use bird call playback for attracting birds for observation or photography;
  • engage in photographing birds that have been attracted by a third party using call playback; and/or
  • encourage third parties to use call playback to attract birds on your behalf.

(A detailed document discussing several of the major studies involving call playback, the pro and con arguments and the implications of call playback on bird behaviours is currently being prepared; when completed, it will be available through our this website.)

BirdLife Photography will continue to monitor publications and recommendations in this field of research to ensure that our policies remain updated and in the best interests of birds.


It goes without saying that taking an image of a bird in breach of the law is an unethical act.

A substantial proportion of bird photography is undertaken in national parks and reserves. To assist BLP members in determining the activities that may or may not be legal, we have compiled a summary of the key legislation in each state of Australia, and the Commonwealth, governing the environment (eg national parks and reserves): see Appendix A in the downloadable version of this document.  It should be noted that these provisions are set out as a guide only and should not be regarded as definitive of all the rules and regulations, which may govern a particular designated park or reserve. Local governments, for example, are likely to have their own set of by-laws governing communal areas, which must also be taken account of.

It should also be remembered that our native bird species are protected by law throughout Australia regardless of whether they occur in national parks, reserves, local government administered areas or private land, unless otherwise stated by Commonwealth or State fauna/flora agencies.

The kinds of activities often engaged in by bird photographers, which are currently proscribed in some or all government reserves and parks in Australia include:

  • taking ('take' often defined to include 'interfering') or harassing (call playback is a form of harassment) native wildlife;
  • taking photographs, sounds or filming birds for commercial gain;
  • use a radio, tape recorder or other sound or amplifier system in a way that may cause unreasonable disturbance to an animal (eg call playback);
  • disturbing or interfering with nests;
  • walking or driving off designated tracks or roads;
  • altering native vegetation (eg to get a clearer photo of bird);
  • erecting structures (eg permanent bird hides);
  • feeding wildlife (eg using food to attract birds).

If in doubt, you should make an enquiry with the local agency in charge of the area you wish to visit prior to engaging in any of the acts listed above.

Obtain a Licence

In most instances, the relevant legislation has made provision for the issuing of licences to people to engage in particular acts in or on government land, which are otherwise proscribed by the law. The advantage of the licensing system is that any potential impact on local wildlife (of, for example call playback) of a potentially harmful activity can be easily monitored and, where necessary, managed.


BirdLife Photography is passionate about bird photography, bird conservation, the wellbeing of our Australian birdlife and respecting the Australian and International agreements and legislation summarised in this document. Therefore, photos submitted to the BirdLife Photography Digital Image Library must adhere to this and other BirdLife Photography endorsed ethical policy statements.

Whilst we rely on membership self regulation of these ethical principles, members are required to check a box on the Submit Photo page confirming that he/she has read, understood and complied with the ethical policies of BirdLife Photography in regard to the submission of their photo to the digital image library (this encompasses all galleries/competitions). Should it be shown that our ethical policies have been contravened, it is at the discretion of the BirdLife Photography Committee to remove that member’s photos from public view.

In addition to this policy document, BirdLife Photography recommends that our members refer to the Disturbance to Birds and their Habitats due to Recreational Activities Policy and the Ethical Birding Guidelines published on the BirdLife Australia website. The main differences between our ‘Nesting Bird and Call Playback’ policy as compared to the BirdLife Australia Guidelines, apart from the level of detail in this BirdLife Photography policy document, is that the BirdLife (Australia) Guidelines do not specifically address nesting bird photography and whilst not endorsing call playback for observation or photographing birds, the guidelines suggest limiting the use of call playback.

BirdLife Photography prohibits the use of bird call playback, unless formally endorsed by an Animal Ethics Committee, in accordance with the ‘Precautionary Principle’ adopted by a number of Federal and State agencies.

BirdLife Photography will not publish photos of nesting birds in viewable galleries. If ‘nesting bird’ photos are submitted for consideration, the photographer should state the reason(s) why the photograph is a ‘rare glimpse’ of that species behaviour and/or contributes to a greater scientific understanding of that species. In cases where these photos are accepted, they will be archived in a restricted gallery where member access may be granted by the Committee, based upon the merits of an application. Nesting bird photos may be deemed suitable for publication in conservation articles written for the Newsletter; this is at the discretion of the Newsletter Editor and/or the BirdLife Photography Committee.




Recent Picks

Red-capped Plover (Image ID 44374)
Red-capped Plover
Jim Schultz
Viewed: 5
Red-fronted Parakeet (Image ID 44346)
Red-fronted Parakeet
Peter Owen
Viewed: 30
Australian Pelican, Freckled Duck, Hardhead, Pink-eared Duck (Image ID 44328)
Australian Pelican, Freckled Duck, Hardhead, Pink-eared Duck
Graham Gall
Viewed: 27
Eastern Spinebill (Image ID 44247)
Eastern Spinebill
Stephen Garth
Viewed: 48
White-plumed Honeyeater (Image ID 44212)
White-plumed Honeyeater
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Viewed: 76
Crimson Chat (Image ID 44191)
Crimson Chat
Steve Mantle
Viewed: 114
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo (Image ID 44172)
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo
Jim Schultz
Viewed: 126
Chestnut-rumped Heathwren (Image ID 44122)
Chestnut-rumped Heathwren
Bill Harding
Viewed: 139
Eurasian Hobby (V) (Image ID 44110)
Eurasian Hobby (V)
Chris Young
Viewed: 181
Brolga (Image ID 44066)
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Viewed: 121


The easiest way to contact us is by emailing us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Our People page, in the About Us section, contains email links to each of the committee members.