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Attracting wild birds

Photograph wild birds at your own home


Wild birds in popular tourism locations will sometimes come to you to have their picture taken
Wild birds in popular tourism locations will sometimes come to you to have their picture taken

The best spots to snap birds and animals while they eat or drink are their natural feeding stations and water holes. Here the word "natural" can be stretched to include places where they have become well used to handouts – parks and picnic sites, for example, and of course, the bird feeder.

THE BIRD FEEDER

With a home bird feeder, you attract birds to you to take their pictures. You also have the advantage of being able to use your house and other objects as blinds, and the further advantage of privacy. You are less likely to attract a human audience while shooting in your own yard. And you will have the joy of the company of these little feathered characters as they brighten up your home environment, even when you are not shooting their pictures.

Watch for their approach route

Once a bird feeder is established in a certain spot (or a nest is built), you will notice that birds approach it in stages via a fairly fixed route. For example, they will come out of the forest to the dogwood tree or blackberry patch, to the porch rail and then to the feeder, and use the same route every time. Usually, they will also show up at roughly the same feeding times every day. This predictability allows you to station yourself in advance to be ready to take shots of them in flight as they approach the feeder, or when they perch at their usual stops on the way.


Set up a perch

Some birds eat at the feeder itself, while some scatter the food onto the ground either because it is in the way of what they really like or because they will fly down to eat it there, and others prefer to savor their treats on a favorite branch. While shooting their pictures on a platform feeder will produce some fine bird pictures, a more "natural" effect can be gained by placing a freshly-cut branch or potted native shrub near the feeder. This may become the birds’ last stop before the feeder, or their first one after, and will give them a more natural-looking perch to “pose” on while you take their picture. Give thought to your shooting location and what the background will be when you select a location to place the new perch.

Consider the background

A neutral background is probably best. You won’t want to see the same tree, branch or building behind every shot. A distant forest backdrop, the sky or a dark background should do the job. If none of these is available in your location, you can make your own backdrop using a piece of painted plywood or cardboard in a black or dark blue color, or any color you feel will suit the subject. Think of light (the location of the sun) and the time of day when you place your feeder and perches to ensure that you will not always be shooting into the sun. Don't place your feeder in the shade unless you plan to use fill flash a lot.

Birds will, to a certain extent, get used to the presence of a photographer or anyone else they see frequently near the feeder. Don't let them get too friendly, however. We don't want them to lose their fear of humans entirely; not everyone is as benevolently inclined as you.

 Taken a split-second too late to catch the approach. Shooting at the right moment is critical.
Taken a split-second too late to catch the approach. Shooting at the right moment is critical.

Electronic flash stops them in mid-air
Electronic flash stops them in mid-air

Attracting different varieties

If you decide to get a bird feeder, or several, first research the diets of birds in your area and then set out a smorgasbird. Apart from providing a steady stream of photographic subjects, the antics of these active and colorful creatures are more entertaining than many TV channels. Be patient. It may take several weeks before birds discover your new feeder.

To attract the widest variety of birds, you will need a wide variety of bird feeders and species-specific food around your yard – platform feeders for ground feeders, hanging feeders for perching birds and suet feeders for insect-eating birds. Reputable wild bird feed supply outfits can provide you with much of the information you will need on what is appropriate for the birds in your area. While you are looking into it, don’t forget specialty feeders for hummingbirds if they are native to where you live. These tiny creatures make very colorful and interesting pictures, but keep in mind that hummingbirds can be very protective of their feeder and monopolize it, so you may need two or more hummingbird feeders in different locations out of view of each other, and at different heights, to attract a number of them. A telephoto lens and a fast shutter speed will be needed to keep their wings from being all but invisible if you want to catch them on the fly.


OTHER BIRD ATTRACTANTS

A bird feeder is only one of several ways to attract wild birds to your yard, albeit the most important one.

You can also make nesting materials available for birds in the spring time to encourage wild birds to nest nearby. Human hair or hair from your pet, cotton shreds, strips of cloth, yarn, twigs and straw are just some of the materials to place where nesting birds will find them. Suspend them from a basket or place them in the hollow of a tree where birds will be likely to come upon them. Little fellows like hummingbirds like small pieces of ferns, moss, lichen and even spider webs.

And then you can offer ready-made or home-built nesting shelves or even nest boxes for some specific species of bird, like chickadees or bluebirds.

COVER

You should also think of planting native trees and shrubs to provide protective cover for the birds. If they feel safe and unthreatened, they will keep coming back. The greater the diversity of plants, the greater the types and numbers of birds you will attract, especially if some of your plants produce berries, seeds, nuts and fruits. Food-producing plants will lighten your bird seed costs, too. Make sure at least some of your new plants are strong enough to support nests and that some are evergreens for year-round protective cover.

A faster shutter speed would freeze these wings, but sometimes blur is better to show their rapid motion.
A faster shutter speed would freeze these wings, but sometimes blur is better to show their rapid motion.

By providing smaller birds with cover, you give them a means of protecting themselves against predatory animals, including other birds.
By providing smaller birds with cover, you give them a means of protecting themselves against predatory animals, including other birds.

BIRDS NEED WATER,TOO

And don’t forget water! Especially running water (which you can achieve with a circulating pump in a bird bath), the sound of which will draw birds from far away for a cool drink or a splash. Photographs of birds in a bird bath can be very attractive, especially if the water they spray up is backlit by the sun.

A few precautionary notes:

(1) If you do begin feeding birds, it is important to remember they may come to rely upon your bird feeder as a primary source of their food, so don’t just stop feeding them when you feel you have the pictures you want. You will cut them off from a food supply which they may depend upon for their well-being. If you are going to stop feeding wild birds for any reason, give them a break and taper it off gradually. Do it slowly, at a time when natural food sources are becoming more abundant.

(2) If you carry the concept of a bird feeder to other animals, and put out bait to attract untame subjects to a certain spot, you may inadvertently become a party to their demise. By luring a small mammal out into the open, you can make it vulnerable to an airborne or other predator.

(3) If you have cats at home that venture outdoors, it may be best to forget the bird feeder idea. The cats will think you are simply providing them with a supply of tasty new toys.


Rainwater on a pool cover provided these ducks with a resting place.
Rainwater on a pool cover provided these ducks with a resting place.