Birding is one of the world’s most popular hobbies. In fact, there are almost twice as many birders in America than golfers. Capturing these feathered creatures in a photograph, however, can prove to be quite challenging. With some simple research and preparation, the chances of coming home with spectacular bird images greatly improves.
Basic things to consider before venturing out:
- Find locations where birds are accustom to people or use blinds to conceal your presence.
- Plan trips during seasonal migrations.
- Pay attention to plumage. Birds molt and may look better during one time of year than another.
- Use long lenses for more magnification (instead of moving closer and potentially scaring your subject).
- Take advantage of the best light around sunrise and sunset.
- Know your camera equipment in advance of your trip or take a workshop.
- Use a good quality tripod and gimbal style head to improve stability.
- Make a shot list to help anticipate potential opportunities.
- Be patient. You may have incredible luck, but capturing consistently good images takes considerable time and work.
- Respect and protect birds so future generations will have the same opportunities.
Although there are thousands of places to go see birds, some are more conducive to photography than others. Here’s a shortlist of favorites.
Sandhill Crane Migration, Nebraska, USA
Nebraska is home to one of nature’s oldest and greatest migrations. Over 600,000 Sandhill Cranes visit the central Platte River valley every March as a stopover on their way to northern nesting grounds.
While it’s possible to capture some beautiful images from county roads, to get a closer view, proximity to the banks of the river is a necessity. River access is the only practical way to capture the cranes’ magnificent dances on water and also provides unforgettable views of their evening return to the roost.
The photo programs at the Crane Trust offer unparalleled photographic opportunities on private land. Specially built blinds are positioned for the best light with an unobstructed view of the river. Large viewing windows accommodate the longest lenses and tripod slots allow participants to position their gear through the windows for full panning. The wide expanse of the river provides excellent backgrounds and contains the largest roost in the region.
Where to go:
When to go:
While the migration can begin as early as February and extend into April, mid-March historically hosts the highest concentration of birds.
In addition to sandhill cranes, other species that may be seen or photographed during this time of year include bald eagles, songbirds, ducks, snow geese and pelicans.
Suburban Parks, Zoos & Nature Centers
While it is nice to travel to faraway destinations, some of the best bird photography opportunities may be in your own backyard. Urban birds are generally habituated to human presence and are much easier to capture at close range without disturbance or the use of blinds. Zoos typically have elaborate aviaries with diverse species from around the world. Local birding organizations often offer programs that give photographers unique access to birds that cannot be released into the wild due to imprinting or injuries.
For example, at Denver Audubon’s Nature Center in Colorado, photographers can join the Raptor Photo Workshop for in-depth photo instruction and close access to HawkQuest’s raptors. These programs not only allow photographers to learn new techniques in a controlled setting that makes practice much easier, but also support two not-for-profit charities that are dedicated to educating the public, especially our youth, about the value of birds in various ecosystems. Photographers improve their skills and come away with wonderful images of over 10 species, plus have access to the wild songbirds that visit the Center’s feeders.
Where to go:
Look for opportunities in your own community, or take a trip to another city or state to discover the wide range of programs available. For the welfare of the birds, make sure zoos are accredited and organizations are properly licensed. For more information about the Raptor Photo Workshop, please visit Denver Audubon.
When to go:
Denver Audubon’s October Raptor Photo Workshop is planned after the molt at a time of year when the birds look their best. Each location and species is different, so do research based on where you want to go and what you want to photograph.
Waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, hummingbirds and raptors can be found in local parks and nature centers depending on your location. Zoos often have native and exotic birds. Some of the HawkQuest raptors include kestrels, bald eagles, owls, falcons and hawks.
South Georgia Island & Antarctica
For over 40 species of birds including 7 different types of penguins.
For bee-eaters, crowned cranes, and secretary birds – just to name a few of the 2,341 bird species on the continent.