Why Stock Photo Agencies Make Nature Writers Swear

Green, pink, and white bird with a red beak on a branch
Small wild bird photo by Wirestock under license from Deposit Photo

I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but when I’m the king of the world, photographers who deliberately misidentify their photos are going to Gitmo. We all make mistakes in bird identification, but there are mistakes and there are “mistakes,” and then there’s this:

“I have no clue what bird this is, but the keyword search tool says, ‘sunbird’ and ‘hummingbird’ come up in search a lot, so I’ll get a lot of traffic if I say it’s that.”

I found the top image doing a search for Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird. C’mon, folks. That bird wasn’t even photographed in the same hemisphere as a sunbird.

The actual title on Deposit Photo is, “A closeup of a green Hummingbird with a red beak…” Oh, it isn’t a hummingbird either, but at least now we’ve stumbled into the New World. Since I know the Puerto Rican Tody, I can tell it must be a tody, but it isn’t Puerto Rican. They’re not shy birds, and I would’ve noticed that big puff of pink on the side.

Cuban Tody, then?

I look it up, and aha.

Cuban Tody
Cuban Tody by Charles J. Sharp — Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0

The hilarious part is I feel like I’ve now accomplished something useful with my day — when the truth is I still haven’t found the photo I was looking for in the first place.

The takeaway

Always double-check the identification of a bird image bought from a stock photo site. They’re wrong more often than they’re right.

It’s true for other animal groups as well. I have a horror story about a news item I once wrote about a margay. Turns out the stock photo I used was a mislabeled ocelot. Or maybe it was the other way around. I’m too traumatized to recall the exact details.

Either way, somebody who knew the difference was one of the first people to read the story and gripe out my editor. “But the stock photo site said…” was not an excuse that impressed anyone.



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