There are a few published codes of practices for nature photographers, but here we’ve expanded the code to cover all nature watchers. Like all codes, it offers general guidelines that you can adapt as you see fit. Always be mindful of the circumstances you are in and invite others to follow these best practices when enjoying nature.
Do not harm wildlife – Countless challenges threaten animals’ survival, so their welfare should always take precedence over people’s desire to observe them.
Do not bait wildlife – When people feed wild animals, they can disrupt the creatures’ foraging or predatory cycles. Food that is not part of their regular diets can also cause physiological harm and changes in their natural behaviours, making them more susceptible to injury, hunting or predation.
Do not disturb nesting birds – People should not approach nests or handle eggs or young birds, particularly during breeding seasons. Many adult birds will abandon nests or roll eggs out of the nest if they perceive nearby humans as potential predators.
Do not stress wildlife – Animals disturbed or distracted by human activity can become more susceptible to injury, predators and malnutrition. Additionally, wild animals tend to avoid contact with humans and may not return to a location from which they were scared away.
Do not trespasson private property – Rules and property laws should always be respected.
Try not to scare wildlife away – Wild animals are sensitive, avoid human disturbance and may not return to a location where they were scared. Also, scaring wildlife away is rather annoying for other nature lovers who may come after you.
Do not share telltale locations of sensitive and vulnerable species – Rare wildlife and plants need to be protected from people who may poach, harass or otherwise disregard their need for an undisturbed existence.
Do not handle wildlife unless you have a license – Touching wild animals can contaminate them with chemicals in sunscreen, bug spray and other consumer products, and can transmit harmful viruses to the wildlife as well as expose people to zoonoses (infectious diseases that are transmissable from animals to humans).
Do not litter – Garbage can harm animals that eat it. It also mars natural habitats and encourages other people to be similarly careless in natural spaces. Litter should be picked up and discarded appropriately.
Do not crowd wildlife – Crowding animals stresses them and can increase poaching and predation. This is of particular concern for owls and rare species.
Stay on sanctioned trails – Remaining on designated trails helps to avoid damaging sensitive plants and natural features.
Be prepared – Binoculars, appropriate footwear and clothing, sunscreen, snacks, water and field guides make outdoor experiences more enjoyable.
Respect wildlife – Look for signs of stress to avoid disturbing wildlife from engaging in the natural behaviours they need to regulate their health and well-being.
Remove litter from trails – This discourages others from littering, improves the experience of other visitors and removes pollution that could harm wildlife.
Be patient – By simply taking their time, people will see and hear more.
Be quiet – Wildlife quickly becomes aware of human presence. Minimizing noise improves everyone’s chances of seeing animals in their habitats.
Noah Cole is Ontario Nature’s communications technician and a regular contributor to Ontario Nature's blog and ON Nature magazine. Noah is an accomplished naturalist with a passion for protecting the great outdoors and a nature photographer. Noah is the author of Ontario Wildlife Photography (canadianimages.net).