Camera flash and bird eyesight

To: <>
Subject: Camera flash and bird eyesight
From: "Robert Inglis" <>
Date: Sat, 5 Jun 2004 07:20:48 +1000
Hi all,
I recently came across an Internet forum discussion about the possible 
detrimental effects camera
flash may have on the eyesight of birds.

In general, the discussion seemed to me to be more subjective than objective 
with statements such
(Note: the quotes are direct copies complete with spelling/grammar errors. Some 
of the contributors
have English as a 'second' language.)

"I don't use flash for wildlife photography; I'm a serious environmentalist and 
I appreciate the
well being of the birds and their habitat. Flash photography is as distressing 
to other animals as
it is to humans."

"now that's a joke....your presence in their environment is a lot more 
distressing than any flash on
earth...if you really don't want to distree them..don't for the light 
from the flash....they
have similar flash when they fly near or over water...the sun relfect on the 
waves and hit their
eyes...The flash is armless."

"I'm not going to say that flash photography of birds is stressful to them 
because well the birds
haven't complained to me yet. I've just started using flash for bird pictures 
and i must say that it
works very well when taking backlit pictures. In the end flash photography will 
have very little
effect on the birds. We will eventually kill off most of them by destroying 
their habitat. We
continue to develope land for houses/stores/malls, whatever, but how much land 
do we turn back into
natural habitat? None!
Anyway i like the backlit pictures i can obtain using flash and it definately 
doesn't sit well with
small birds because they flap their wings, but egrets/herons don't seem to 
mind. Far more stressful
to the birds at the St. Augustine alligator farm than flash are the screaming 
hoards of kids, i
heard one kid say he wanted to throw a rock at them, i would have killed my kid 
right there."

"Honestly even some of the little birds seem to not mind at all. The way you 
approach them seems to
make more difference to them than the flash or not"

(end of quotes)

I have to admit that I have used some pretty powerful flash units when 
photographing birds,
particularly night birds.
Even after a few flash cycles the birds did not appear to be distressed by the 
process: they
appeared to be still able to immediately focus on my movements.
Certainly, they seemed less effected by the flash than I was!

Once again, this is a rather subjective assessment.

I have vague recollections of being in the audience of a 'lecture' about bird 
eyesight some time in
the dim, dark past.
If I remember correctly, the claim was that birds can actually look more 
directly into the sun than
humans can without damaging their eyes.
If that is the case it would seem to me that they should be able to cope with 
camera flash
reasonably well.

Can anyone confirm this?
Also, can someone please provide a simple explanation of the differences 
between human and avian
eyesight as far as being able to cope with bright light?
Or, is there a reputable Internet source on this subject I could be referred to?

I did a search of the Birding-Aus archives to see if this topic had been 'done' 
before but could not
find anything specific; perhaps I didn't use the 'correct' key words.
There was some stuff on 'ethics' and 'disturbance' but it all seemed fairly 
subjective (that word
None of the discussion I found fitted my concerns.

Note: I realize that topics such as this can create heated and emotional 
discussion and I would ask
members to take my enquiry in good faith.
Heated and emotional replies should be sent to me direct but considered and 
more 'scientific'
replies might me of interest to the general membership.

Bob Inglis
Woody Point

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