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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Give ’Em Some Space

Spring Is For The Birds • Live View Benefits  • The Right Light

Labels: How-ToColumnTech Tips

Red-bellied woodpeckers, who nest in tree cavities, are usually safe subjects for photography at nesting season. A Canon EOS-1D Mark III outfitted with a Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L and 1.4X tele-extender (700mm) kept me at a safe distance and enabled the photography without a blind.

Spring Is For The Birds
This issue will reach you in April, when spring is really getting started in most of the country. This is also when the birds get into nesting mode, making their locations more predictable and photography a bit easier, but it's important to assure that we don't adversely affect the nesters or nestlings.

Here are a few basic rules to observe when photographing birds at the nest.

When a bird is in the process of building a nest, it's especially alert to perceived threats in the immediate environment and may abandon the site if it feels uncomfortable. Wait for the nest to be finished and the eggs laid before attempting to move closer for photography, being very cautious when the bird is on the eggs, as keeping the parent off the nest could be catastrophic to the well being of the future chicks.

Observe the nest from a distance to determine the birds' incubation and, later, feeding schedule. There's usually a somewhat regular timetable. When you begin to photograph, watch to see if your presence disrupts the timetable, and if it does, remove yourself and your equipment from the area. A blind can be an excellent stage for photographing a nest that's at an accessible height. Introduce the blind to the birds incrementally, gradually moving it closer to the nest as the birds accept it.

The nest is especially vulnerable when the baby birds are about to fledge. Any quick movements or disturbance at this time can send the fledglings out of the nest early and jeopardize their chances of survival.

Some nests are safer to photograph than others. Cavity-nesting birds are generally more accepting, and I've often been able to photograph them feeding young at the nest opening.

Ground nests are most vulnerable, and your presence and scent may expose the nest to predators such as raccoons, foxes and coyotes, or to opportunistic jays, magpies and crows that have learned to associate human presence with food.

A good alternative to photographing in person at the nest is to place a remote camera in close proximity and observe and photograph via a remote release. New (more expensive) technology employs wireless cameras monitored and operated from a distance on a laptop.

You can use electronic flash to light a dark nest or cavity, but if the equipment and firing flash keep the parents away from the nest, it must be removed.

Observe the adults' preferred flight path to the nest, and don't obstruct it with your equipment.

The welfare of the nest is always more important than getting a photograph.

Team up with a knowledgeable bird biologist to safely watch and photograph the natural history of a nest, from building to fledging. It's a very satisfying and educational way to work, and the photographs you achieve may be useful to researchers.


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