Photographs of Common Kingfishers are high on the bucket-list of many photographers interested in wildlife. There are commercial wildlife hides which specialise in kingfisher photography and can virtually guarantee spectacular photographs. The standards have been set, and they are very high indeed.

Unfortunately, these spectacular photographs come about using a practice many photographers consider to be very dubious, live baiting. In this context, live baiting of Kingfishers is where a container is filled with water then bait such as live minnows, baby trout or suchlike are added. The container is placed close to a river bank or pond frequented by Kingfishers with a few natural perches above. There are variations, eye-level reflection pools for diving shots, aquariums for underwater shots, for example.

Live Baited Kingfisher Alan Hewitt Photography

Common Kingfisher, ‘live baited’

I’m often asked about my thoughts on live baiting and it is usually about Kingfishers. Do I agree with it? The short answer is ‘No’, I do not. I thought I’d set out the reasons why in this short blog post.

Before I continue to explain why, I must declare that I have photographed Kingfishers which have been live baited. Many will say this makes me a hypocrite. I reluctantly accept that, but in my defence, I am entitled to change my views as I continue to develop as a wildlife photographer and unfortunately, I cannot go back and make right what I now believe to be wrong.

I do not believe it is ethically acceptable to engineer the death of one species in order to enhance the experience or outcomes of photographing another species. I’ve heard of practices where birds such as wood pigeons have been tethered alive to logs to attract Eagles. Is that acceptable? If a wildlife photographer was to disable a mammal such as an Impala or a Gazelle, hindering its natural ability to escape so they could photograph the approach and attack of a predator like a Leopard or Lion, would we find that acceptable?

The answer is, of course, absolutely not. I don’t think many would disagree with this.

If we consider this to be unacceptable, why do many photographers feel it is absolutely acceptable to trap another live animal like a fish to use as bait to photograph Kingfishers? From my own ethical point of view, I cannot see any difference. I cannot see how it is possible and where we can draw the line between which live animals are acceptable to use as photographic cannon fodder and those that are not.

If anybody can see a difference, or where we can draw the line, please do let me know your thoughts.


  1. Max Illingworth December 9, 2018 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    one hundred percent behind your thoughts

  2. Richard Shucker December 9, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    I don’t agree with this at all. You’re getting bogged down in sentimentality over what? A few fish. It’s laughable.

    • Alan Hewitt December 12, 2018 at 8:14 am - Reply

      Where would you draw the line then? What species of animal do you consider to be acceptable to use as live bait and what do would you say is not? Also, why?

  3. Peter Burrows December 9, 2018 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    THis is a very brave posting and I applaud your honesty. I photograph kingies in this way and I can’t agree with you. You’re right but I think feeding the kingfishers is good conservation.

  4. Sarah Stephenson December 9, 2018 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Absolutely right.

  5. Andrew Hobson December 9, 2018 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Live baiting of any wildlife is absolutely ethically unacceptable. I love your thoughts on this and I agree whole heartedly with your reasoning. Why are fish considered to be ok to live bait when other animals are not!! It’s double standards. Thanks for a great blog post.

  6. Nigel Shaw December 21, 2018 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    So, should anglers not use live bait?

    • Alan Hewitt December 29, 2018 at 1:24 pm - Reply

      I don’t know enough about fishing yet alone the myriad of ethics it may involve. But, a Google search on using live bait reveals a huge amount of results!

  7. Don Vawter December 21, 2018 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    It is complex. Is using a worm to bait a hook unethical or is it ethical because you eat the fish even though it causes the death of two species. If you use live bait to feed birds is it ethical as long as you don’t photograph them?

    • Alan Hewitt December 29, 2018 at 1:24 pm - Reply

      I don’t know enough about fishing yet alone the myriad of ethics it may involve. But, a Google search on using live bait reveals a huge amount of results!

  8. John Davison December 22, 2018 at 1:23 am - Reply

    I have had the pleasure of visiting numerous Wildlife Photography Exhibitions, established photographers displaying outstanding world class photographs, some from National Geographic magazine, many are using bait but road kill stuff, they don’t kill other wildlife to use as bait, it’s mainly dead stuff. I’m not sure I agree with using live bait, most birds of prey will visit a carcass as will some mammals, Fox Stoat etc. Leaving dead mice in the right place will attract Owls, using a mobile hide in the right way enables the photographer to capture shots he or she would probably never get.
    Apart from live fish for Kingfishers there is no need to use live bait for most wildlife subjects. Look at the birds around feeders, a Buzzard will visit a carcass.

    • Alan Hewitt December 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm - Reply

      People want to photograph the Kingfishers close up perched or breaking the water as they dive and resurface. The latter is extremely difficult to photograph and I don’t think the Kingfishers will see or be attracted to dead bait. But if people are willing to use live bait to photograph one species but recognise it isn’t appropriate for another, does that make the case they consider getting their photograph more important than the way it is done, ethically?

  9. Gren December 30, 2018 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Fully agree with you Alan

  10. Patrick bibby December 30, 2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    For me if you endanger the bird / animal to get the shots then it’s wrong. Eg fish in a container will most often move around the edge thus a kingfisher has a high chance of getting hurt on the edge of said container. So is the risk worth it. ?

  11. Jayne Bond October 22, 2019 at 11:01 am - Reply

    This sums up my thoughts and feeling 100%
    Like you Alan, I’ve been guilty in the past but not any more. A really well written article – thank you.

    • Alan Hewitt November 7, 2019 at 11:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jayne, hope you are well!

  12. Kev September 22, 2020 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Thought never crossed my mind before I stumbled on this post. The danger I see is if you live bait too often a bird or any other animal becomes used to that and drifts away from its natural habits
    Also if the live bait is contained it doesn’t have a chance of escape that it would of naturally wild.

  13. Noble PFN October 30, 2021 at 8:25 am - Reply

    I never even knew live baiting existed. I thought all kingfisher photos were just natural and the product of patience and luck. Never felt more naive than I do at this moment.

  14. Rachael January 8, 2022 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    I agree, the real issue is missed here. Kingfisher coukd break their necks in these tank shots. It should never be used by any photographer.

  15. Robart March 12, 2023 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    In principle I agree, although I do put live mealworms on by birdfeeder which birds of all kinds clearly enjoy, and I have been known to take the occasional photograph of the birds, but the context is clear in the images.
    One could ague that nothing unnatural is happening, kingfishers catch fish in the wild, fish die and kingfishers eat, but this or any other method of live baiting is not something I would support or encourage.
    Reading between the lines it seems that sense of ‘cheating’ is what irks many Photographers, that you can pay some money and effectively stage a ‘wild’ shot.
    On the other side of the ethical coin I’ve seen popular Landscape locations effectively trashed as a stream of photographers converge on a spot, some as part of Photo tours, chasing the tripod marks left by others – and the very wilderness they seek is negatively affected, sometimes to a point where the location is effectively destroyed with added litter discarded just for good measure – not to mention the carbon footprint of just getting there.
    There is always an impact from what we do, either professionally or as a hobby and we all have a choice to try and do the right thing

  16. […] hide, or static blind has been setup without implementing lures such as live or dead bait, this is considered good-practice and ethical. However, […]

  17. Jonnyboy October 28, 2023 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    Not sure why it’s being ignored here but, live baiting a kingfisher is 100% unethical because the risk of the bird snapping its neck at the bottom of the tank is very high which most here don’t realize…

  18. Stephen de Vere January 13, 2024 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    I found myself forced to live bait once, right at the start of my career with the BBC natural history unit. It was ‘sprung’ on me the evening before the start of filming a sequence of a jacomar bird catching morpho blue butterflies in Costa Rica for the Lie of Birds series. The jacomar was a wild bird near its nest but the butterflies were bought from a nearby butterfly farm and released close to the nest for the adults to catch and take back to the nest. I refused to do it but then went ahead after being told by the series producer that my future prospects for work at the BBC would be severely curtailed if I didn’t, because it was accepted practice. After that experience I always warned potential employers in advance that I would not do any live baited filming.

    Over the decades that have followed, there has been a reduction in the use of trained, captive etc animals for wildlife photography and TV filming but the practice persists. The most recent potential (I use that word to protect myself from possible prosecution) example I have seen is in the Wild Isles series where froglets are predated by leeches. There are various exemptions in the law on the illegality of live baiting, eg. it is still legal I think to do it to catch fish, so I can only assume that these exemptions are where the answer is. Still, I find it hard to understand how stocking a small pond with reared trout for wild ospreys to help themselves to (eg. Rothiemurcus osprey photography hides) can be legal when the law states that the owner of livestock has a duty of protection to those animals kept in its care. BWPA and WPY both no longer allow the practice, but it still appears in award-winning series on Netflix and the BBC. It baffles me!

  19. Stephen de Vere January 13, 2024 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    TYPO: Life of Birds not Lie of Birds! (made me smile).

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