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Snowy Owl Photographers Divided Over Baiting Flight Shots

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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RAMSEY, Minn. (WCCO) – Snowy owls are showing up in large numbers this winter, frequenting areas far from their normal arctic habitat.

On a light pole in Ramsey Monday, one snowy sat, posing for all kinds of nature photographs.

“He’s been here for over a month at least,” said Jim Crotty, a local wildlife photographer.

Crotty has captured hundreds of stunning images of snowy owls, all of them taken without the use of bait.

“They’re so cooperative where other birds are not,” he said. “So for those of us who are amateur photographers, we like the arctic owl.”

Nature purists are strongly opposed to a tactic that’s been popping up all across the Midwest. Some photographers have been attaching an artificial mouse to the end of a fishing line, then casting the mouse onto the ground in an attempt to lure the owl closer.

“So you get many people who are not just passively taking nice owl pictures, but they want to stimulate nice flight shots,” says Department of Natural Resources non-game wildlife specialist Carrol Henderson.

Henderson says that while baiting birds may not be illegal under current state laws it is both unethical and dangerous. And an outdoors activity that normally brings nature lovers together, is now putting them at odds.

There have been occasions where purists let those baiting know their tactics are unwelcomed, at times resulting in shouting and shoving matches.

“If people are doing this from a roadside, they’re conditioning the owls to look for people and come to a roadside,” said Henderson. “Now [the owl is] at risk of being hit by cars.”

Crotty says there’s no need for artificial means. If you want a tighter shot, just use a larger lens.

“Nature is here for us to take advantage of,” he said, “not for us to manipulate.”

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