Earliest wild bird photographs?

Today I found myself wondering “What are the earliest photographs of wild birds in nature?” (to put it in iNaturalist-speak: what would be the earliest photographically documented bird observation eligible for research grade?).

Wikipedia directed me to these gorgeous photographs of storks (White Storks I think?) made by Ottomar Anschütz in 1884.


These are incredible photographs given the technology of the day (even by today’s standards I think they are great!). The photographer invented a lot of the technology required to take action photos of any kind.

Curious if the community knows of other 19th century wildlife photographs taken in nature (not a zoo or museum).

If we could get a date and location for these photos, could they be added to iNat? (photos prior to 1923 are in the public domain, but obviously I don’t know if they can be added by someone other than the photographer).

Coincidentally the earliest observation of White Stork on iNaturalist is from exactly 100 years later, observed in 1984, by @john11: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/528734


Frank Chapman published a book, “Bird Studies With A Camera” in 1900, but one thing he didn’t discuss was the history of bird photography. He did talk about equipment and methods, and his personal vignettes afterwards make it clear he’d been using photography as a study method for quite some time by then.


Thanks @psweet, very cool! Check out this photo of a Catbird by Chapman from around 1900.


As a method to get the bird to the camera, he put a taxidermy screech-owl up in a tree so the catbird would come and scold it.

My plan is to select some spot where birds are numerous, pref- erably near the home of a Catbird," place the Owl in a conspicuous position, and erect near it a " scolding perch," from which the protesting bird may con-

Very clever. As difficult as bird photography is now, I can’t imagine it back then!


Lol, that is very cool.

Here is a longer section of that passage from here. Very clever set-up!

From a considerable experience which, through poor equipment, has not yielded adequate return, I am convinced that one may secure excellent pictures of many birds by decoying them with either a mounted or living Owl; doubtless the latter would be preferable, though I have never tried it. With a poorly mounted Screech Owl, however, I have had some excellent opportunities to photograph. My plan is to select some spot where the birds are numerous, preferably near the home of a Catbird, place the Owl in a conspicuous position, and erect near it a “scolding perch,” from which the protesting bird may conveniently vituperate the poor unoffending little bunch of feathers with its staring yellow eyes. The camera is then focused on the scolding perch and the photographer retires to the undergrowth, and, bulb in hand, waits for some bird to take the desired stand.

A Catbird’s domain is chosen for the reason that this species is the alarmist of whatever neighborhood it may inhabit, and once its attention has been attracted to the Owl by “squeaking” or uttering the alarm notes of other birds, the photographer may subside and let the Catbird do the rest.

[…] Other birds in the vicinity are of course attracted, and hasten to learn the meaning of the uproar. Often a bit of undergrowth, of which the Catbird was apparently the only feathered tenant, will be found to possess a large bird population. It is interesting to observe the difference in the actions of various birds as they learn the reason of the disturbance. On the whole, each species displays its characteristic disposition in a somewhat accentuated manner. The Blue-winged Warblers flit to and fro for a few moments and then are gone; the Chestnut-sided Warbler is quite anxious; they Maryland Yellow-throat is somewhat annoyed; the Ovenbird decidedly concerned; the Towhee bustles about, but seems to pay no especial attention to the Owl; the Wood Thrush utters its sharp pit-pit, but is content to let well enough alone if its own nest be not threatened; and the Yellow-throated, Red-eyed, and White-eyed Vireos, particularly the latter, add their complaining notes to the chorus of protests. Not one, however, approaches the Catbird in the force of its remarks, nor does the bird cease to outcry so long as the Owl is visible.


So true! I’ve noticed the personality differences of scolding species–although not the same species. It’s wonderful to be reminded that naturalists in the past saw some of the same things we saw. Gives one a sense of connection. We all share one planet, one nature, even with those who’ve long since passed away.

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