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In the field with wildlife photographer Melissa Groo

Last month, ORI had the privilege of hosting world-renowned wildlife photographer Melissa Groo. Melissa is an expert in photographing sensitive species including owls, and she's been a great supporter of our work- not to mention a wonderful friend to ORI throughout the years! We are always delighted when she visits us here in Montana.

We invited her to help us document the nest sites, habitat, and behavior of Great Gray Owls in our study area. The photo documentation Melissa captured will be given to forest managers to help them accurately identify and locate suitable habitat for nesting owls. Beth and Melissa are also collaborating on an article about the importance of snags and nesting structures for the iconic Great Gray Owl.

A view through a spotting scope of a Great Gray Owl sitting on the top of a broken snag. One section of trunk extends up next to the owl.
A female Great Gray Owl glances down from her nest in the broken top of a snag.

A white woman stands looking into a camera on a tripod attached to a very large lens.  She is in the woods.
Using a 600mm lens to capture beautiful photographs while not getting too close to the nest. While we were observing the nest from a distance away, the female left 2 young chicks in the nest to go cast a pellet. While she was off about 40 yards from the nest, a raven came over and swooped at the chicks in the nest. The female was back in a second, protecting the chicks from the predator. We were reminded first hand of the importance of not flushing owls off of their nests or keeping them away from their nests, leaving chicks vulnerable.

During Melissa’s time here this spring she visited several Great Gray Owl nests, and with the help of our researchers, used her ethical wildlife photography knowledge and techniques to capture rare photos of these animals. Melissa truly feels a connection with animals and would do anything to protect wildlife, and we are lucky to have her on our team!

A young Great Gray Owl chick in a broken top snag nest. It is young and covered with white down, and has its eyes closed.
Melissa says these are faces only a mother could love! But we love them too!

As always, ORI's primary goals are focused on owl conservation through research and education. Using methods such as photography can help achieve these goals.

Wildlife photography has unfortunately become another form of recreation that has the potential to damage wildlife and habitats. It also has the potential to advance conservation and bring awe, appreciation, and understanding for species rarely seen. Over her career, Melissa has contributed immensely to the conversation and guidelines around ethical bird photography. Not only has she helped create the National Audubon Society's Guide to Ethical Bird Photography, she also serves on ethics committees for various national and international photography associations and has written numerous articles about bird photography ethics.

Read her Statement of Ethics and find links to some of her many articles on the topic on her website:

A woman helps a young girl hold a large zoom camera lens (the lens is larger than the little girls torso). They are standing in a grassy field in the evening, with the sunset lighting up clouds behind them.
Teaching the next generation of researchers!

To learn more about Melissa's work and learn more about ethical bird photography, visit her website:

And, follow her on social media:


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