Wildlife photography affects bird breed

Repeat feeding of five species of birds in the morning with the absence of photographers (grey column) and present (blue column).

image: Frequency of feeding five species of birds in the morning with the absence of photographers (grey column) and present (blue column).
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Credit: Guangxi Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Conservation, Guangxi University, China.

Taking candid photos of birds in their natural habitat is becoming an increasingly popular activity worldwide. Photographing birds and their young in their nests gives photographers a fascinating glimpse into the life of the bird family.

According to Xiaocai Tan, an ornithologist and doctoral candidate at Guangxi University in China, this focus on bird nests has alarmed scientists, who worry that humans’ proximity to nesting sites may negatively affect bird reproduction.

However, in a study Published in KeAi . magazine bird researchShe and her colleagues discovered that the exact opposite is true.

She explains: “Nonggang is a tropical limestone forest area in southern China. We noticed a sharp increase in the number of bird photographers visiting the area after the Nonggang Babbler species were discovered there in 2008. These photographers usually placed their cameras near the nests of a variety of species. The birds, because they know that the parents may either raise their eggs, or go back to feed their young. This gave them the perfect opportunity to take great and even award-winning photos.”

Tan and her colleagues decided to study the effect of these photographers on birds’ nesting habits—specifically, nest predation and parental feeding rates. They knew that nest predators, including birds, mammals, and other reptiles, were killing about 60%, and sometimes up to 75% of, “hawks” in the area, including the globally endangered Nonggang Babylonian juveniles.

During the study, which included 12 months of fieldwork and examined 277 bird nests covering 42 species, the team discovered that the rate of predation for photographed nests (13.3%), was significantly lower than the rate seen in unphotoged nests (62.9%).

Tan adds: “In other words, the presence of the photographers increased the survival rate of young birds. Interestingly, their presence had little effect – positive or negative – on feeding rates in those nests.”

According to Aiwu Jiang, the researcher who led the study, this finding is completely at odds with what most scientists had expected. “Like a scarecrow,” he says, “the presence of paparazzi seems to scare away predators’ nests. Other research we have done in the same area shows that the presence of traffic noise can eliminate mammalian predators.”

He adds: “Although this finding suggests that photography has a positive effect on successful reproduction of birds, this does not mean that we encourage photographers to visit nest sites – further evaluation of other aspects of nesting, and other types of responses to stress, is needed before understanding The overall effect of bird photography.

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Contact the corresponding author: Aiwu Jiang, aiwuu@163.com

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