Stop Harassing Exhausted Snowy Owls

Overview: Please take note that the main point of this article is to create awareness regarding snowy owls exhaustion after a long migration into Southern Quebec. (Baiting is secondary) They need their rest to recover. The last thing they need is to be chased across fields by eager photographers trying to get the first image of the season.. This article was written after witnessing an Obese French Canadian Canon Photographer chase a newly arrived Snowy with his SUV across fields. The Photographer justified his actions by stating he had acquired permission to be on that piece of land…but he totally disregarded the impact of his actions on an exhausted Snowy Owl…

I’m dedicating this blog post in Memory of the Snowy Owl found alongside Highway 30 and rescued by Sylvain Lamoureux, member the Birding Club, COL (Club d’ornithologie de Longueuil) on the 16th of December. Sylvain promptly brought the Owl to the Saint-Hyacinthe Veterinary Hospital, The Bird of Prey Clinic. The Snowy Owl was diagnosed with hypothermia and exhaustion. On Sunday the 18th of December 2011 the Snowy Owl passed away despite all of the effort and excellent care it received. 

Rescued Male Snowy Owl in CaptivityRescued Male Snowy Owl in Captivity

Late November usually marks the beginning of the Snowy Owl’s arrival in Southern Quebec. These Owls migrate from the far North regions of Quebec and arrive fatigued. Sometimes even too fatigued to hunt and feed themselves. They just need to rest peacefully in agricultural fields and regain their strength.

Last year the Snowy Owls didn’t come. Favorable weather, hunting conditions and I’m guessing other factors kept them far away from Southern Quebec. Last year’s lack of Snowy Owls had many photographers bored out of their wits. These photographers shamelessly turned to other birds, like the Barred Owl, as they taunted them with mice, to get that perfect picture. Some photographers went as far as feeding mice to Barred Owls in Nature Sanctuaries, Quebec’s National Parks (Ile de Boucherville).

November 2011 has brought in an over abundant number of Snowy Owls into the region. We may even be talking about a record number of individuals that have migrated into the Southern Quebec region.

This seems to have over excited a large number of irresponsible, self proclaimed Nature and Wildlife Photographers. Unscrupulous photographers who show ZERO respect for nature, wildlife and other people’s property. Photographers have been spotted running onto fields (Private Property) chasing down these exhausted Snowy Owls, just to get a closer look. Naturally that rarely happens as the Snowy Owl uses every last bit of energy left to escape the pursuing photographers. A photographer has even been spotted hopping into his SUV to chase them further and further into the fields with his motor vehicle.

This permissive, irresponsible and destructive attitude is leading the Snowy Owl Season to a very negative start. There’s been on average over one Snowy Owl rescued per week since their arrival into the Montreal/Southern Quebec region. The fortunate Snowy Owls that are found, weakened beyond reason, have been sent to specialized rescue centers like the Veterinarian Hospital, Clinique des oiseaux de proie, in Saint-Hyacinthe, associated with l’Université de Montréal and UQROP. The birds in general are suffering from exhaustion and hypothermia.

This is just the beginning. If these irresponsible self proclaimed Wildlife Photographers don’t kill off all the Snowy Owls before they’re in shape to hunt, there will be a second wave of destructive behavior.

Photographers from all over the world will arrive in bus loads as part of Snowy Owl Photo Workshops. Mice are used in abundance. The over exaggerated use of mice to get that perfect picture turns into a disgusting show of arrogance and selfishness on the part of photographers. The practice has been denounced, but it should be outlawed as these birds are protected and the end result is devastating to the Snowy Owl’s welfare.

Rescued Male Snowy Owl in CaptivityRescued Male Snowy Owl in Captivity

Last Fall a magazine, an authority on birding in Quebec, Magazine QuébecOiseaux, attempted to denounce the practice of bating Snowy Owls, as the practice had increased to pandemic proportions. Unfortunately the editors took a pussy footed approach to the problem and maintained a politically correct point of view. Most probably as to not hurt anyone’s feelings as it could lead to a loss of precious subscribers. A biologist, a world renowned authority on birds of prey, has even declared with discontent, having been misquoted by the magazine in that very same article.

Des souris, des hommes et des harfangs
Magazine QuébecOiseaux – Reportage
Written by Valérie Levée
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 00:00
There are no translations available.

Devant un parterre de photographes aux aguets et prêts à le mitrailler sous tous les angles, un Harfang des neiges plonge sur une proie des plus singulières : une souris achetée dans une animalerie! Cette scène de plus en plus fréquente dans les champs enneigés n’est pas sans soulever de sérieuses questions sur le plan de l’éthique.

Pour lire la suite..

Radio Canada, The french version of Canada’s CBC, National Television, also broadcasted an investigative report on the problem of unscrupulous photographers, as reported by ornithologists, that will stop at nothing to get a picture of an OWL..

“Clic la chouette” was presented on “La Semaine Verte” on Radio Canada, CBC in french: Des ornithologues accusent certains photographes de ne reculer devant rien pour faire de bons clichés de hiboux. Est-ce défendable de nourrir et de piéger des animaux pour l’art de la photographie? Gilbert Bégin et Bernard Laroche analysent cette controverse.

You can watch a rerun of the show online: Clic la chouette | La semaine verte @Radio_Canada

L’Union québécoise de réhabilitation des oiseaux de proie (UQROP) has written an article stating their position on the abusive use of mice for the purpose of photography. I invite you to read the french version and contact UQROP to have your name added, in solidarity, with those who support their point of view on the subject. http://www.uqrop.qc.ca/www-officiel/fr/photographieavecappat.php

The problem, Snowy Owls learn to associate the rows of cars lined along the fields with the mice photographers feed them with. This association between cars and food has lead to an increased number of collisions between automobiles and Snowy Owls along country roads and highways. The reason we have so many Snowy Owls this year is probably directly related to the birds not having been exposed and denatured by these irresponsible photographers last year.

The problem is even more compounded as photographers invade private properties and leave behind litter of mice boxes, bags, wrappers, facial tissues and more. This lack of respect for wildlife and local residents was at the center of controversy as some Mirabel residents complained to authorities about the disaster left behind by photographers after a winter of harassing Snowy Owls.

Existing Laws need to be properly enforced and new penalties imposed to better manage the problem. I personally find it disgusting and appalling to see so many photographers disrespect nature, wildlife and local residents just to get a picture. The trail of destruction has never been so apperant. It has come to the point where the race to get the first pictures of the season totally disregards the Snowy Owls welfare, its exhausted state upon its arriving into Southern Quebec. The arrogance and selfishness of photographers is taking a deadly menacing toll on the Snowy Owls and that’s illegal. The Snowy Owls are a protected species. Responsible authorities in conjunction with local Law Enforcement need to do their job!

Snowy Owl images taken at the Ecomuseum with Nikon Cameras and Nikkor Lenses.

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