April 10, 2013

Owl and Mouse, Minnesota

Photograph by Tom Samuelson, My Shot

This Month in Photo of the Day: Nature and Weather Photos

Great gray owls come south from Canada into Minnesota during the winter to find food. This owl was on the north shore of Lake Superior, just south of Two Harbors, Minnesota. We happened to find him as the sun was setting, and in the evening light, we were able to be in a position to see an owl that was hunting when a mouse came out, and the owl was quick to pounce and pick up an evening meal.

(This photo and caption were submitted to My Shot.)

Editor's Note, April 18, 2013: Since first posting this picture, we've received additional information. The mouse was placed in position to attract the owl.


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164 comments
Dante Camacho
Dante Camacho

National Geographic shouldn´t allow "prepared scenario" photos like this one to be displayed on their website. It is a beautiful picture and I was very impressed when I saw it at first, but when I read that the mouse was "placed in position to attract the owl" I was very dissapointed. Wildlife is about catching the natural moment, not about preparing it like that. 


In my opinion, you kill wildlife photography when you set it up.



I. Thornton
I. Thornton

I love this shot!  Talk about impending doom!

Ian Parrish
Ian Parrish

What a incredible shot ! This is why National Geographic has no equal when it comes to photography .

William Kleinfelder
William Kleinfelder

"The mouse came out" At least be honest that this was a baiting scenario. 

Charlene Burge
Charlene Burge

I hate seeing imagery of baited owls.  We shouldn't encourage this type of imagery.


Besides being a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it's potentially quite physiologically damaging to the owls to be baited. "The mouse was placed in position to attract the owl." That usually means the owl came within the distance that a photographer predetermined, and threw the mouse out to.  Sometimes they even put the mouse on fishing line and reel it back in, baiting the owl closer and closer.


Even if you're not worried about altering their behavior (encouraging them to stay in an area that may not support them on days that photographers don't shower them with gifts), there's still a problem with encouraging owls to associate people with food, and roads with food. How many of us have seen a dead owl on the roadway? We don't need to encourage them to hang out near roads and people.  Then there's the random idiot who thinks it's cool to shoot birds like this.  Why would we want to encourage owls or other wild animals to approach people?


If it hasn't already been done, perhaps Nat Geo should seriously consider an article on the ethics of wildlife baiting.

M. Hay
M. Hay

I don't really care much for staged pictures and this one, is not cool.   Poor little mouse.

CS Liao
CS Liao

Great timing, nice capture.

Sean C.
Sean C.

No doubt a great shot but that mouse shaped hole to the left looks like someone dropped a mouse on the snow !! You can see the tail mark but I might be mistaken :) 

Boyan J
Boyan J

Nice shot. Great work.

Dave Frank
Dave Frank

Just about as good as it gets in my humble opinion. Thanks for sharing!

Silvio Mazzei
Silvio Mazzei

P-E-R-F-E-C-T, anymore words would be useless.

christine laferriere
christine laferriere

You know you have to be careful if you are another owl because they oftentimes eat each other!

Tricia Brubaker
Tricia Brubaker

That must have been on such a high shutter to get this!!!!

John Kiiru
John Kiiru

I am not a good photographer but i find something unreal about the dimensions in this photo. Is this a product of different pictures that were later stitched up? Something does not add up. My opinion, but i could be wrong

Dan Dady
Dan Dady

I keep coming back to this shot, it is spectacular. 

It does give a natural view and a REAL depiction of what actually happens in the wild. Although the mouse was placed in an obviously vulnerable position this IS how the Owl feeds. 

Life feeds on life, without exception. To deny this is to deny the wildness of nature and above all reality.

That being said the photographer did misrepresent how the photo was captured. He gave the impression that it was a chance encounter; "...we were able to be in a position to see an owl that was hunting when a mouse came out..." when the mouse was obviously tossed out. 

This is where the questionable ethics come in, if the photographer were to have fully disclosed the actual capture conditions rather than falsify them I would have had no problems at all with this shot.

There are many other areas where photographers pre-stage a shot, just because Walt Disney has been very successful in conditioning us to anthropomorphize cute fuzzy animals does not change the fact that they are but one link in the food chain. 

Richard Jones
Richard Jones

I keep coming back to this photo; It’s riveting! I can clearly see the full body imprint of mouse ant tail, can also see tracks originating from the nose of the body imprint moving forward, then turning ninety degrees to the mouse’s right and heading toward the camera. Ask yourself how lucky is that for this shot. Ask yourself if the camera was unmanned, and used a wireless shutter release, how lucky or skilled is the composition. For me, the magic is in the print and in what emotions it invokes in me; the rest is just techy stuff.

Richard Jones
Richard Jones

There is so much that could have gone wrong with this photo, The mouse looks like it may have been thrown from a hide to the leftand looks like the camera may have been concealed in its’ own hide facing the mouse. If the mouse was thrown into frame and ended up facing away from the owls attack direction, then this took a great deal of skilled coordination IMO. But all guessing and unimportant opinions aside, Lets all give this photographer a resounding “well done” he deserves it.

I want to share a poem I wrote after painting a leopard using a photo for reference taken by a very talented Photo Safari Guide friend of mine. It addresses the anthropomorphic thingy.

OF PREDATOR AND PREY

It crept from the shadows into the crimson dawn, concealed by its spots, from an antelope fawn. It must succeed in an urgent course, borne not from malice and without remorse. The leopard must feed her cubs yet another day, in an epic cycle, of predator and prey.

© Richard C. Jones, 2012

Richard Jones
Richard Jones

Well said Anthony, I agree with all you wrote. You obviously are experienced in this field, and more, I like your empathy for a fellow artist. My favourite subjects to photograph and paint are wildlife and human anatomy. Sadly the subject of wildlife is losing popularity among the great unwashed, which in retrospect could be better for wildlife art. I think it will see a precipitate, or finer quality of wildlife photos and paintings by better informed artists and a similarly educated audience. This has to be a good thing.

The comments about the poor cute mouse astound me. How many of us watch the Oasis channel and lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards and on and on, doing what they have evolved to do? We watch these programs and may feel some pathos for the cute baby gazelle fawn been pawed and directed back to the Cheetah’s hiding place of her cubs, so that they may be shown how to kill the fawn. It is simply anthropomorphic sentimentality. I can understand it, but can’t condone it. I feel very concerned with the disconnect from reality by such a huge section of the public.

Ann Alimi
Ann Alimi

I know I will get shot down for this but ...Why is this cruel if a set up? There is no animal torturing here- its an owl, owls eat mice. All the photographer did was offer the owl a free meal. Set up or not this is one tough image to get! I just hope the photographer got the shot the first time or this would be one very "stuffed" owl!! I do have a problem with the original misleading information by the photographer though. I also have a problem with National Geographic magazine getting these amazing shots from amateur photographers at no cost! People if you submit your once in a lifetime work to such a succesful magazine -get compensated! Love the magazine but let the paid pros do the work.

Steven Arbeiter
Steven Arbeiter

Wow, I have grey owls where I live and to get a picture of an owl hunting would more than likely be in low light or no light situations, it would have been a little more believable if it was a hawk, but my dog, Lillie, has to dig through the snow to find these tasty morsels, the picture is awesome though and does capture what does go on out there !!!

Barbara Meyer
Barbara Meyer

Well said, Selkie.  Nat Geo certainly deserves credit for acknowledging the real circumstances surrounding the shot, but I agree that if not pulled from the site, there should at least be a stronger, more prominent statement about ethics and the cruelty of live baiting.  The misrepresentation and then then the lying about it erode our trust in Nat Geo photographers.

Selkie Solon
Selkie Solon

How incredibly disappointing, National Geographic, that you would validate an image created through baiting. There are so many ethical issues surrounding the baiting of raptors with domestic mice, even beyond the inhumane aspect of using live bait for the frivolous purpose of a photograph. There's question about the potential pathogens carried by pet store mice and how they might affect the health of a wild owl. In these areas with Great Gray Owls, there is notorious abuse of baiting, luring owls close to people, cars and roads where they are habituated to their detriment. I would expect a much higher ethical standard from Nat Geo, and I feel this photograph should have been pulled after the revelation of baiting -- particularly since the photographer misrepresented the situation from the onset. Furthermore, for those of us out in the field frequently, it's quite easy to see the images that are live-baited and this one falls clearly into that category. Please set a good example for new and young wildlife photographers by insisting on the highest standards of ethical and humane field practice around wildlife. The best photographs are acquired through intensive field craft and patience. This photo, knowingly baited, is sending a very wrong message about wildlife and wildlife photography.

Alexa Keefe
Alexa Keefe

Thank you for all of your insightful comments. We've spoken with the photographer and the question of how this photograph was taken is addressed in the editor's note above. 

Anoop Savio
Anoop Savio

What a dramatic situation...Lovely shot

Rob Leslie
Rob Leslie

Well I've been uncrowned as the most liked Photo of the Day for the Year with my sunset fire splash. Wicked Photo. Must have taken a great deal of patience.

Harley Daddyson
Harley Daddyson

geez!! you have made it isn't just cool but freezing.. bbrrrrrrr!!! lol :D

Shannon T
Shannon T

Poor little mouse! I know the owl needs to eat and this is the way the world works but the mouse is so cute. At least we get to see it before it's mutilated. That would be a terrifying last image. Well done on the timing, it's a superb shot.

Richard Hoeg
Richard Hoeg

Forr people who claim this photo was staged, I am a amateur photographer who lives near Two Harbors. Look at the shadows, and understand that at times a full grown man is able to walk on crusty late season snow without leaving a trace. Spend some time in the north woods before you claim fraud. I'm not surprised that the mouse or vole did not leave any tracks.

Oliver Trojovský
Oliver Trojovský

 This is not just a photo of the Day, this is a photo of the CENTURY!!!

... so far the best photo I've ever seen.

Craig Leigh
Craig Leigh

@Tom Samuelson -  I for one would like to know about the equipment used,  exposure settings and how many shots were taken to secure this one.  Fantastic work.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing

@Richard Hoeg But it appears a mouse or vole, left a whole mouse or vole body imprint in the snow, right next to the mouse or vole in the photo. Nobody including the photographer has offered an explanation as to what it is, or how it got there.  Hmmm, it's getting curiouser and curiouser.

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