Call in the Birds


So only Cardinals look good in the snow?  I get hundreds of searches a week all year for Cardinals and Blue Jays in the snow, so it seems they are the only birds people want to see foraging around in Winter, but there are others just as nice.


The White-throated Sparrow has a preference for thickets.

In the post, When You Need a New Bird Feeder, I got comments on the non-native Sparrows, like the House Sparrow, at the feeder.


I said many sparrows are native, but I see them infrequently in Winter. So I just had to lure one in for this post.


You want to know how?

I first went to an area with dense understory plants. Next, I set out my iPhone and started playing the calls of Chickadees. When alone in the woods, I look a little less ridiculous playing bird calls. The birds are fooled when in their habitat.


I learned this from my bird watching friends. Many birds respond to the chatter of the Chickadees. Varieties of birds will fly to where the phone is playing the calls. Take notice of how many birds are intently watching in the direction of the iPhone. They are not watching me!


The phone was put on a log (seen above) where I want birds to visit, and the rest is up to them. The Cardinal is looking at the log holding the iPhone. My app is by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but there are many good ones on iTunes.

I will play a Cardinal song to lure Cardinals for instance.


The bird calls bring them in close too. It is similar to how a hunter calls in geese and ducks.

Play a Red-tailed Hawk and see what happens. You won’t see a bird for days.


While most of these birds will respond to seed being scattered, it is a lot more fun seeing what birds will respond to calls. I would never do this during breeding season as it would stress the birds, but during winter, they arrive to the sound of chickadee chatter. They assume food is being offered or found.


It is so much more pleasing to see the birds in the woodland rather than at a feeder.

The other bird seen less frequently in my garden is the Tufted Titmouse. They like to be near wooded areas and are seen at many feeders where the conditions are better suited to their behavior.

A bird seen less frequently in my garden is the Tufted Titmouse. They like to be near wooded areas and are seen at many feeders where the conditions are better suited to their behavior. I do get them, but not as many as other birds.

Birds that rely on natural foraging are more difficult to photograph. There is little control where they land. Branches are often in the way and many times the background of the composition is not ideal.


You don’t generally want the birds in deep thicket like below.  Exposure is a bit trickier and the mass of branches often is distracting. It is work finding an angle that helps focus on the bird.

By baiting the birds with food, you can have them land more predictably. I carry seed for these occasions. Once you lure them in, the food keeps them hanging around. By observing, you see where they land most frequently.


Do you think nature photographers just sit and wait? I took a class in 2011 where a renowned wildlife photographer spilled the secrets on pruning and baiting. He would carry portable pruners to trim around branches where birds frequently perched to make his composition better.


You can do that too.


Happy Holidays, may they be bright with colorful birds!

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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13 Responses to Call in the Birds

  1. David says:

    A very interesting post with nice illustrations. I’m motivated now to download some bird calls and try my luck. However, I will wait until warmer weather (sunny 40s plus) before I go out with the camera. Despite the beauty of your winter photos of the Niagara area and its wildlife, I just can’t get motivated to go out in the cold to take pictures.

  2. swo8 says:

    The tricks of photography…..who would have guessed? You certainly have taken some lovely photos, Donna.

  3. alesiablogs says:

    I do like them all but oh those red and blue colors!!! To die for!!

  4. Emily Scott says:

    Clever to use the phone to lure them in. So many little tricks to improve the photos. And a lot of skill on your part once you get the bird in the right place.

  5. You are right, Donna, there are many lovely winter birds and not just the cardinal and blue jay. I love how you lured them to take these amazing photos. P. x

  6. Your photography is just crystal. I love watching the birds and think they are just beautiful with the winter backdrop. Happy Holidays Donna!

  7. aussiebirder says:

    I agree Donna, it is so much better capturing in the wild, and you have done an excellent job of it here, as winter birds can be difficult to find at times. Have a great Christmas and New Year

  8. Its interesting to see what birds respond to their call. Some, I’ve noted have a negative response and high-tail it away from the sound. I use the technique also but beware as there are some militant birders out there that deplore the “unnatural technique”. Your shots are outstanding.

  9. Annette says:

    happy christmas, Donna, and thanks for sharing all your beautiful, stunning pictures throughout the year xx

  10. Karen says:

    I would have never thought of playing bird calls, amazing results, Donna! Each photo is a treat to see. I hope your holidays are merry!

  11. Emma Maund says:

    Wishing you a wonderful wildlife-filled Christmas, Donna and looking forward to what your camera sees in the new year!

  12. Karen says:

    All birds are lovely but cardinals are so showy in the whiteness of winter…beautiful photos as always. I wanted to comment on your latest post, your Christmas wish, but couldn’t get the comments to work. I hope you have had a wonderful Christmas.

  13. afarawayhome says:

    This is genius! I’d never thought of luring birds with my phone! This changes everything, thank you! How long does it take for them to come?

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