I Love The Birds!

November 3, 2021

Birds are everywhere. We often take our common birds for granted. Most people either don’t notice them or find them to be a bit of a nuisance. But I love them and always have. Their songs fill me with joy and I love to observe them. Whenever I am in a bad mood, the birds always have a way to cheer me up.

Birds are a subject that fascinated me as a child. My earliest attempts at taking photos of them in my teen years led me back to my childhood playground where the pigeons would always hang out. Pigeons are actually intelligent, friendly, and inquisitive. If you point a camera at a pigeon, many of them will start posing for you. They are used to being ignored and often enjoy the attention.

Then in my twenties, I had the privilege to photograph birds in Florida. And while my photography skills at the time weren't as developed as they are now, I still managed to capture quite a few keepers.

Seagulls in Daytona Beach. Captured a wide shot as the clouds looked beautiful reflected in the wet sand. Environmental shots like this are essential to any bird lover's collection.

But when I moved to The Poconos, that's when my passion for bird photography really took off. I moved there in 1998, but it was in 2008 when I started to get really curious about our local birds. Before then, I had never really bothered much with photographing our new cast of characters.

I had felt that serious bird photography was out of my skill range. But the purchase of an Olympus 70-140mm (140-240mm in 35mm equivalence) got me focusing on these small fast moving targets. I got a few keepers and felt somewhat encouraged, even though I still felt that serious bird photography was out of my reach. It wasn’t until 2009 when I bought my 70-300 (140-600mm in 35mm equivalence) that my interest really took off.

Northern Cardinal in a tree captured with my 70-300mm.

It started simple enough, put a little bird seed out and a few visitors would come by. Mostly dark eyed juncos , sparrows, and mourning doves. After improving the mix of seed then we got visits from titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, and the occasional woodpecker.

But as usual, my husband got interested an took it to the next level. Adding suet and peanut butter to the mix, more woodpeckers and then wrens started visiting. Next we began putting out niger seed and that lured in visits by finches. We even have had a few rare visits by rose breasted grosbeaks. Cardinals like to come by for the black oil sunflower seeds. And during migration, a hungry blue jay or two will stop by.

Hummingbird feeders and flowers have rewarded us with regular humingbird visitors. And robins liked to pop by to munch on our garden worms. Crows would fly by, but didn't hang around much. It’s a good thing as they often scare the smaller birds. We have even had hungry wild turkeys stop by in the dead of winter to eat any discarded seed that falls to the ground from our hanging bird feeder.

Sweet little Hummingbird.

My favorite times of the year to photograph birds are in autumn, winter, and spring. Summer usually has me distracted by my flowers, but I still remember to photograph our feathered friends when they stop by. One summer I got to watch a mother bird teach her fledgling to fly. And many summers I got to watch juncos, woodpeckers and sparrows feed their juveniles and teach them to eat at our feeders. Very cool!

But it is in winter when these birds really make my heart sing. Winters there were long, cold and brutal. Never underestimate the joy of hearing a bird's song in wintertime. It somehow triggers that “summer feeling” and brings a smile to my face every time. Any time of the year a visit by a bird to our feeder would wipe a grumpy grimace off my face in mere seconds. I love the birds!

I no longer live in the Poconos and have since moved back to New York City. But the photos remain to remind me of all the wonderful visits we had. And, of course, there plenty of beautiful birds here in the city waiting for their closeup. Birds are everywhere!

Dark eyed junco on a snowy day. These little birds love the snow.

I still consider myself a novice on bird photography. But I have improved greatly over the past few years and here are my favorite bird photography tips.

Follow these tips and your bird photography will also improve:

1. Get a telephoto lens.

One in the 500-600mm (in 35mm equivalence) is ideal. If you are using a camera with a high megapixel count, or if you are shooting large birds you can get away with a shorter lens in the 200-400mm range. But remember you will lose quality and megapixels if you have to crop the image too much in the computer. It’s always best to get the bird as large in the frame at the point of capture for the highest quality images.

2. Put out a bird feeder with an assortment of treats.

Be sure to place natural looking perches nearby, such as a twig, as birds will often perch there making for excellent photo ops without seed or food in the frame. Buy a book on backyard birding and you will find out what birds are local to your area and what foods they like to eat.

3. Use aperture priority.

I usually use aperture priority to capture my bird images as lighting conditions frequently change. In addition, I often find myself focusing on different parts of my backyard as I try to capture a variety of birds, which can also mean a great difference in lighting values as some birds are in shade and others in full sunlight. I don’t want to miss a shot just because there wasn’t enough time to change my settings before the bird flew away. I also frequently use the RAW format to capture the images. That way if there are small errors in the auto exposure, there may be a chance to still salvage the image without the quality of the photo suffering because of it.

Do be aware of your shutter speeds though as longer shutter speeds can result in a blurred bird due to subject or camera movement. My reason for choosing aperture priority over shutter priority is because I like my images to have shallow depth of field, an image with a blurred background so as not to detract from the bird. But I do always pay attention to the shutter speed and if it is too slow I boost the ISO on my camera.

4. Use fill flash. Use of an on camera flash will freeze bird movement, add a catch light to birds’ eyes, and also will help to balance contrasty lighting situations. I usually set my flash to -1.7 stops so as not to overpower the natural lighting which can end up looking harsh and fake.

5. Learn from the experts.

I recommend purchasing instructional photography books by Tim Fitzharris, David Tipling, and Arthur Morris. You may also want to join photo workshops and tours led by professional photographers. They will lead you to where the exotic birds are and teach you valuable techniques to capture their beauty either on film or digitally.

As always, have fun with your photography and don't forget to enjoy listening to the bird songs while photographing them!

You can view more of my bird photography and purchase prints at my online store: