Photographs of Birds Caught in Mist Nets

John James Audubon, a French-American ornithologist (a person who studies birds), became internationally known in the 1800s for his ambitious goal of painting and documenting all the different bird species found in the United States. His methods, however, weren’t exactly bird friendly. To prepare his subjects, Audubon would first kill them using fine shot and then fix them into striking poses using wire.

Ornithologists these days have a much better way of capturing birds for science: mist nets. The nylon mesh nets virtually invisible to birds when suspended between two poles, and allow scientists to capture, study, and release the birds unharmed. Photographer Todd R. Forsgren wants to be the modern day equivalent of Audubon. His project titled Ornithological Photographs consists entirely of photos showing different birds caught in mist nets.

Forsgren, a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, shoots the photos in different countries and environments using a 4×5 view camera. If the images look a bit look studio pictures to you, it’s because he hauls around a mobile studio of sorts.

His packing list includes studio lights and a light box, and he aims to finish his shoots in less than 10 minutes to minimize the stress and discomfort experienced by the birds.

You can find the rest of the photos in this series over on Forsgren’s website.

P.S. Audubon is actually the person behind the world’s most expensive book. A copy of Birds of America, a book containin 435 of Audubon’s paintings, sold earlier this year $7.9 million!

Image credit: Photographs by Todd R. Forsgren and used with permission

  • Mr. T in DC

    Not a fan of this technique. Due to their very light bone structure, birds are especially delicate, and stressing them physically or otherwise for the sake of photographing them doesn’t seem ethical to me. Researchers often use mist nets to capture birds for legitimate scientific purposes. Photographers should not go running around deploying these nets wily-nily. It’s more fun and challenging anyway, to photograph birds in their natural environments without disturbing them in any way. I may be reading onto the photographs too much, but to me, these birds look uncomfortable at best, and terrified at worst. Please do not emulate this photographer, and as a bird lover I’m asking him to stop immediately.

  • Lee Kniewel

    These pictures aren’t even remotely interesting. Just junky some studio snapshots of helpless birds for the sake of…. what? This isn’t art. This isn’t a “series.” It’s just junk. No photographic skill involved.

  • Roy

    What do you consider to be “legitimate scientific purposes” in the sense that they justify capturing/distressing birds?

  • Sum_it

    I’m not commenting on the comfort/safety of the bird because I don’t know how I feel about it myself. But, the concept of photographing birds in their natural habitat is very traditional and old. It is beautiful at its own right. However, perhaps this photographer is making a commentary on exactly such a thing. Not too many people will carry around a 4×5 with studio lights unless they were driven by an idea.

  • Mark

    “Photographer Todd R. Forsgren wants to be the modern day equivalent of Audubon.”

    And I want to be the modern day equivalent of Alexander the Great. Perhaps dressing in a toga will accomplish this goal.

    I own several Audobon engravings, my favorite being of the now extinct Carolina Parakeet. To me, those are both artistic and scientifically significant. The fact that science and art are blended so elegantly speaks to the magnificence of the works. This, however, makes me cringe. In fact, for whatever reason, I find the idea of a 19th century artist shooting a bird with pellets more appealing than trapping them in nets and posting it online.

  • Kamo

    Agreed, I wouldn’t be too happy about letting birds or any other animal suffer like this for the sake of a photo.

  • Mr. T in DC

    For example, checking for West Nile virus, or inspecting leg bands to determine migratory patterns. Still not great for the birds, but at least may provide some helpful information for wildlife conservation, which these photos clearly do not.