Outdoor Photography Tips 46 - Spring is for the Birds

It has been a while since my last blog post. And reflecting on that, I have convinced myself to get back in the grove with another nature photography post – this one dealing with shooting birds. There are many posts, blogs and comments that provide assistance in the technical realm, but I should take a moment or two to list some concepts which help the subject as much as the photographer.

When capturing birds, there are some field techniques I use that assist me in capturing springtime birds. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Nest building can be a very laborious activity for a pair of birds. Keep your eye out for birds on the ground – especially ones that seem to be wandering about, but not necessarily displaying signs of eating. They depart. And then return a short time later. Closer observation might reveal they are collecting nesting materials. Pick a spot nearby and sit still. They will most likely return and provide you with opportunities for a great many shots.

  2. Bird species in somewhat unusual places. I have located swallows near puddles alongside the road. At first I thought they might be procuring a drink of water, but this isn’t the usual way the drink water. After a short observation, I noticed they were gathering mud for their nearby nests.

  3. Birds spotted collecting fluff from weed seeds, old patio furniture, fur, or feathers from yard animals, are all great indicators of nest building.

  4. When you spot a bird gathering the materials, watch where it goes. Then follow. You may have to wait because you lose sight, but if you stay where you are, you will most likely see them on the next trip with materials. Then you can follow them a bit father or even to the nest itself.

  5. If you are successful enough to locate a nest sight, do not go and inspect the nest progress. If the bird watches you perform you building inspection, it will probably act like I do for building inspectors, I run away! So observe from a distance.

  6. Visit the nesting area frequently, but from a decent distance, as not to interfere with the breeding and nesting behavior. They will develop a trust in you the longer you spend time nearby.

  7. Then comes the brooding time. No, I don’t mean the sadness you will be experiencing, but the time the female is on the eggs. I find this time to be the most critical. Do not disturb, should be the sign you see in your brain while the mother bird sits on the eggs. Be patient, it only takes but a couple of weeks for most small passerines to hatch.

  8. Feeding. If you have been keeping tabs on the birds, the feeding activities will increase in frequency as the young get bigger. This will provide you with many opportunities for shots. If you should come across a nest sight where birds are already actively feeding, please give them plenty of space. Watch and see if they come frequently, or if they seem to be a bit reticent to feed because of your presence. That is when to “back off”. Come to realize a working distance that will be comfortable for the birds to continue with family life.

  9. Here is the last, and probably the most important concept. Sometimes, I know, you will find a very cool animal to photograph, but you have to resist the “it's all about me” part that takes over and makes you want the photo, whatever it takes. You have to resist it. Because in reality, it isn’t about you at all. So, be respectful of the wildlife. If not this year, maybe next year, is my motto.

So, in closing, I wish you all the success with capturing birds during the breeding season. Take your time to observe some of the coolest behaviors and courtship displays of the year, and as always, happy shooting.

Tree swallow collecting nesting materials.

Breeding Pair of Tree Swallows

Bewick's Wren feeding young.

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