I Just Love My Outdoor Birdies
In many parts of the US, winter is difficult for birds, like our Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis. In the last post on Blue Jays, you saw a family of three young birds experiencing their first look at snow. Their curiosity in watching the flakes fall was fun to observe. I really enjoy their antics and cute expressions.
f5.6 1/1600 ISO 400 300mm
Unlike the Blue Jays, male and female cardinals have a different appearance, yet are the most recognizable bird in the US. They don’t molt into a dull plumage in winter, and are stunning in snowy gardens.
f5.6 1/320 ISO 1000 300mm 8 feet from the subject – A seed hangs out of her beak, like a vampire fang. She looks especially so with that pointy crest slicked upward.
Finding food is frequently a challenge for all birds, but especially so for those facing their first winter. They face days that are regularly windy and cold, with nights even colder.
Berries on shrubs and trees have often withered or been consumed, and many of the insects have died, or went underground to become dormant. But not all. See the post from standingoutinmyfield, Snow Insects for a few brave insects.
You have to be realistic about your planting of fruit and seed producing plants. Unless you have long hedgerows of plants, the seed and fruit is usually long gone before winter if you have specimen variety planting beds.
f5.6 f1000 ISO400 300mm
Even trees known to hold fruit through the winter are very often picked clean. The pear below has been heavily foraged for instance.
What’s On the Menu?
In their natural habitats, cardinals will eat seed from pine trees, and many common weeds and grasses, such as smartweed, bindweed, foxtail, dock, chickweed, button weed, and sorrel. They will forage for grapes, dogwood fruit, blackberries, cherries, and raspberries.
In your yard, you will provide the food source by purchased seed and/or planted gardens, so by knowing your subject’s natural needs, you will be more successful. Whether they forage, like at the pear tree or eat at the feeder, knowing what a bird will eat is important in planning for their visit.
f 5.6 1/640 ISO 800
The conical-shaped beak of the Cardinal lets you know it is a seed eater. They do eat fruit, but their preference is seed and nuts. Northern Cardinals are very fond of safflower seed. Also on the menu for them is hulled sunflower seed, shelled peanuts, peanut hearts and cut apples.
f11.0 1/100 ISO200 300mm
Plant to Protect
They like dense shrubby areas for safety, like in the image above at Niagara Falls State Park.
In my yard, they frequently are found in the Viburnum, Lilac and Crabapple. But not all the shrubs are within camera range, even at a 300mm. If you plant the densely branching shrubs within eight feet of your viewing window, they will likely use it for safety. The Viburnum is eight feet away, the Crabapple is 20 feet away and the lilacs are at 30 feet.
Each species works the yard differently, so knowing their habits helps quite a bit. The trees and shrubs in my yard were selected with this intent. I will list the plants in an upcoming post in this series.
But like all things, there is always exception to the rules. Even providing safety zones can have a kink in the planning. Some hawks are very capable of entering the dense shrubs, and the Sharp-Shinned is one such agile bird.
The one below was in my lilac today, but as usual, came up without a meal. So far, no feather strewn yard or blood soaked snow.
Cardinals range. (source – Cornell Labs)
Tips for the Backyard Photo Studio – For Closeup Portraits, Make Use of Man Made Objects
Leave ornament and furniture outside that can withstand the winter. It allows for a variety of places for birds to perch. Best of all, you can move it to where you can actually get good pictures. You can easily arrange cut branches to suit your needs and plant or affix them with clamps to the man-made objects like I will show you soon.
Above is a planter that I ‘planted’ with Concolor branches. This is one of the ‘Shooting Galleries’ I fabricated so the birds would perch on a natural element. You can see they always don’t perch precisely where you want them to, avoiding the garden furnishings.
The point of the cut, portable branch is that we want to control where they land, the background of the image and the light hitting the scene. Movable perches allow for all three. The sparrow in the photo above, on the other hand, landed where I wanted for my photo, but not the Cardinal.
Creating a perch sets up your photo nicely….
f5.6 1/400 ISO 800
But the birds are not always happy about the intrusion shown by the expression of the one below. The bird you are seeing above and below has an injured leg which it cannot bring close to its body. It is not as evident in these images, but she must have been attacked by a cat or hawk and escaped with her life.
Have you noticed a trend in angry females in this post? I have been getting the evil eye a lot lately. Oh, and I know birds express displeasure as I have a cockatoo that does it so well.
Above is the outdoor dining table, minus the glass table top, and it is close to my viewing windows for shots from indoors. Unfortunately though, it does make for a distracting background, even blurred.
Below, the background is the clay speed tile wall, but at such a distance, it only appears as a colored background, making for a more pleasing shot.
Above is a Shepard’s Hook. This is the most active spot in the backyard for perching since it holds a bird feeder. They sit here waiting for an opening at the feeder. I sit inside waiting for them.
Heated bird baths are always in use. I position it three feet from one of the windows where I shoot photos.
Brrrr, but I am warm inside, and that is a great tip.
Let’s recap tips mentioned so far.
- Buy seed specific for the species of birds you want to attract.
- Install plants that feed and shelter the birds. Enhance the habitat.
- Design the garden to benefit wildlife. Use shelter plants liberally.
- Place feeding stations deliberately to aid in photographing.
- Add perching natural props.
- Prune out plants for unobstructed landing perches.
- Learn the habits of your subject.
- Leave out ornament and furniture that can withstand the winter for varied perching.
- Make movable shooting galleries.
- Add to your backyard birding habitat with a heated water source. Position it close to where you will be photographing.
Next, we tour the backyard, see the plants supporting wildlife and some unique things I did to encourage birds to visit. Not necessarily a pretty post, but one with a lot of useful information if you too enjoy having and photographing backyard birds.