The Cornell Lab Bird Academy Discussion Groups Bird Photography with Melissa Groo Practice Understanding Birds for Better Photos

    • Anne
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      We have just passed the nesting season for hummingbirds in San Diego, but earlier this year I wanted to capture one of the many hummers that come to my feeders gathering nesting material.  Each year I provide kapok nesting material from a couple of locations.  This image was taken in my front yard with the afternoon sun not quite reaching into the area that is the background.  By keeping the exposure set on the bird, I was able to create the dark background I was after.  My camera, on tripod, was set up with some foliage for cover and I used a long lens to stay back, but feel up close.  This is a female Anna's Hummingbird. HummingbirdWithNestingMaterial
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        Beautiful capture!
      • Anne
        Participant
        Chirps: 7

        @Isabelle thank you!

      • Fred
        Participant
        Chirps: 9

        @Anne I'll second Isabelle's comments!

      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        Great photo!
      • Laurie
        Participant
        Chirps: 6
        Wow! Love the wispy nesting material and the bird highlighted against the dark background.
      • Jeanne C.
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        Wow...Great photo!
    • Gavin
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      For my subject, I chose the Marsh Wren, knowing it would be tricky to see but enjoying the idea that it would be a fun challenge. So this morning, I got up (very) early and drove to Île Saint-Bernard, an island on the river southwest of where I live in Montreal, Canada. There's a wildlife refuge there with a large marsh, and I had heard Marsh Wrens singing there earlier this spring. And sure enough, there were at least a half dozen of them in full song in the bullrushes along the main path that leads across the centre of the marsh. Of course, just because you can hear them doesn't mean you can see them - let alone photograph them. But wrens (I've seen the same behaviour with House and Winter Wrens) are curious. And if you stand still, they will sometimes work their way towards you to check you out, furtively moving through the undergrowth, moving with sometimes surprising speed, then popping out unexpectedly before disappearing just as quickly. I had one encounter exactly like this, but the shots I got weren't great. Then, on the way back, I saw a wren fly up and literally burst into song in mid-air, his small body contorting so hard that he seemed to hover momentarily. Figuring this was the extravert I was looking for, I stepped just off the path and leaned into the high marsh grass. A minute or so later, out popped the wren agin, even being so kind as to adopt the classic pose, legs splayed like a miniature marsh yogi. After singing for about 30 seconds, he dropped back out of sight and I quietly moved on, happy that I did not appear to have disturbed hm. 1W9A1736
      • Laurie
        Participant
        Chirps: 6
        Loved your narrative and this adorable photo!
    • Kelly
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Every Spring I wait for the return of the Baltimore Orioles.  They generally show up in Connecticut in early May.  This year there seemed to be an abundance of these birds in my local park.  While they generally hang out high in the canopy I discovered a nest on the edge of a field quite low in a tree.  After the young fledged I was lucky to come across the little ones while the parents were feeding them raspberries from the field.  In the past I have witnessed the adults aggressively protecting their young but this pair didn't seem to be bothered by my presence. After getting a few shots I left the family to enjoy their berry breakfasts.  Unfortunately the Orioles will soon be making their way back down south and I'll have to wait again until next May to hear them sing from the tree tops.   DSC01181DSC01175
      • Dana
        Participant
        Chirps: 12
        Loved seeing the Baltimore orioles.... in southern CA, we get hooded orioles who spend the summer with us. Since taking some bird biology classes in an emeritus program for a couple of years, I've learned to watch for them. They nest in tall palm trees in my neighbors yard, but have visited my yard since I have a fountain. This year, they reappeared in April and were quite taken with the bottlebrush blooms in our yard. Here is a blurry photo (taken with a Lumix DC-FZ80 in automatic mode). HOriole_Front
    • Marcia
      Participant
      Chirps: 15
      I did my research on birds that visit my backyard. I usually do bird watching and taking photos at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania, along the shores of Lake Erie. It has been difficult to take photos at Presque Isle recently. First the water levels at Lake Erie have risen significantly and caused many birds have left or gone deeper into the wooded areas to get away from flooded trails and increasing water levels. The other thing that is driving the birds deeper into the wooded areas, are the number of people coming to the Park to exercise, walk, and bike. The birds and other wildlife are slowly being pushed out of their regular habitats. This is the reason I decided to research my backyard birds. This has been interesting because I have been able to watch Parent birds bring their young into the yard to eat from my feeders and the many berries and other edible plants in the backyard. The research that I did helped me to identify what the parent birds were doing for their young. The young House Sparrow would flap it's wings and run up to the parent bird to get food and as they progressed the young bird started to eat the seed and other food on it's own. The other interesting thing I learned is how everything in my yard is used by the animals that inhabit my backyard. I have a Trumpet Vine and the rabbits that come into the yard eat the fallen petals from the Trumpet Vine. My pictures are not as clear as I would like because I took the pictures from my window rather than try to go outside and take pictures and disturb the House Sparrow Parent feeding it's young. I appreciate what I have learned in this lesson, and through my research, because I feel like I pay closer attention to the behaviors demonstrated by the birds and other animals, and with background research107272336_2874064839386199_3277404159622753992_o understand why the birds are demonstrating the behaviors I observe.
    • Marcia
      Participant
      Chirps: 15
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    • Betty
      Participant
      Chirps: 14
      So yesterday , I used e-bird to see what others were sighting at Quivira Wildlife Refuge, which I like to go to every couple of months. I still find the site a little over whelming but will continue to use it as a tool. I usually use my car as the blind, but I did try stabilizing the lens with my hand when extended and liked the feel of that. I am sharing 3 of my better photos from yesterday.   Eastern KingbirdD2B0A880-B95E-4275-B898-856F9EC95AA8   Mourning Dove0BCAA11C-4A13-42F9-A74C-F1DD348A1346   Red-winged blackbirdA302C719-FAC5-4710-9402-42D8F72CD83C
    • Since March, sheltering indoors with the corona virus, I have spent time observing Scaled Quail who live in the arid, undisturbed prairies which surround my home in southeastern Colorado.  April is the start of breeding season. My photo shows three very young quail just starting to venture a few yards away from their parents, baby steps to leaving the nest.  My favorite insight is that Scaled Quail are extremely protective & cautious parents, who will chase off any other birds who get near their chicks. The male acts as a guardian, constantly surveying the surrounding area for any potential predators, allowing his mate (for LIFE!) a chance to eat with their chicks in peace.   They eat seeds of trees, shrubs, sunflower seeds and "forbs"/non woody plants, like the Russian thistle weeds, otherwise known as tumbleweeds!_E8A2171_Advice From A Sunflower_
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        Very cute! I observed the exact same behavior in California Quails.
      • @Isabelle Thanks for your interesting fact, & yes I think they are very cute too Isabelle!  It's amazing that the range of the Scaled Quail and is concentrated only in the southwest:  CO, AZ, western Kansas, western Texas, south to central Mexico.  They are the only quail who don't have black on their faces.

      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        Gosh, I will have to look for these birds. I am only familiar with Gambels Quail. Your photo will help me remember them.
    • Jan
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Ridgway 1889 said, the Bewick's Wren "... explores the garden fence..." and that is where I see one or two of them everyday as I eat my lunch outside on my back patio. I regularly see them finding what look to be moths on my shaggy fence. The one photographed today seems to be a young bird, and it was peeping regularly back and forth with another of its species. Notice that there is an annoying and distracting yellow stick/line in the background -- something that Melissa warned us to look out for! With birds that rarely sit quietly, it's hard to avoid sticks. (As an aside, I would note that all the photos uploaded here seem rather "soft" as if the quality of the upload is not great. My photo looks quite sharp on my computer, but here seems a little blurry.)20200705-P7050036-Casa Contenta, Santa Fe, NM-Bewick's Wren
    • Kerri
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Our home is in a mixed woodland environment with some open areas, and a marshy pond area adjacent to it. It's the perfect habitat for the violet green swallow. Their preference of catching insects on the wing has certainly become a welcome activity for us (goodbye annoying flies, wasps and gnats!) and their aerial acrobatics are captivating. This is the second year we have been fortunate enough to have a family of violet green swallows nesting in one of our canned lights in the gable over our patio. The parents don't seem to be bothered by our presence and it has provided a great opportunity to observe their natural parenting behaviors. When getting ready to feed, a parent will circle, flying closer and closer to the nest each time, and softly chattering. The baby birds will respond louder and louder until the parent lands, feeds, and quickly flies off again. It's been difficult to catch the parent in focus but it's been a blast watching the babies grow! VGSW After Feed_2VGSW Mom + Baby_2DSC02936_2
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        Oh wow! The violet- green swallows are such a gem! I’d love to have a nest in my backyard. Thanks for sharing this cuties.
      • Carole
        Participant
        Chirps: 39
        Absolutely gorgeous!
      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        Fascinating looking at your photos...we never know where we will find interesting bird behavior, do we?
    • Cynthia
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      I decided to research red-winged blackbirds as I have been watching males harass  much larger birds chasing them away from the marsh by my house as well as dive bomb people as they walk down their boardwalks to the beach. As I researched, I learned that they like to build nests in grasses in or near fresh water marshes. This morning, I went out early and followed the a male until he went to a suspected nest in the marsh. I quickly spotted the female as she flew. I’m not quite steady yet to get great moving shots, but here are a few. The middle picture is my surprise picture. The male was sitting on the twig that is out of focus.  What I didn’t realize until I reviewed my photos was how he was able to take off like a rocket, in a completely vertical direction. B017EA9B-DADD-4A58-93DC-F305D43D7FE50E048C83-7E7B-4F69-ACB7-D125ECB3CB143B04D3D2-4971-42C8-A352-81FEF3DA113B
    • abbott
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Many species of birds here in Malaysia are with little research information. We do not know much about their habitat, food sources, nesting season or any distinctive behaviour. To identify them by sound is not easy because most of the time we could hear their callings but couldn't see the birds. There are quite a number of migratory species here, suspect a few have already become residents. There is worrying sign of diminishing bird species caused by reducing natural forest coverage and connectivity.  To conserve the remaining species  is a big challenge. But the challenges could become opportunities. I am going to confront this challenge by bringing greater public awareness of the many beautiful birds that live in our forest. The best way to do this is by photographing, capturing exiting moments of birds' interesting behaviour in the wild. Begun with the first bird of interest - Little Green Pigeon. DSC_1284
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        Beautiful!
      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        You are taking on an important challenge and others will love your photos and the story you can eventually share. Kudos to you!
    • Brad
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I decided to research and look for the Scissor Tailed Flycatcher which is a common summer migratory bird in my area. They can typically be found in open fields, lots or parks where some lone trees are near by for nesting. They can easily be spotted perched on feces line or electrical lines surveying their surrounding for food. Their diet consists of insects and they typically catch on the fly which can be so fun to watch. I was really looking for their in-flight acrobatic moves I did see these but was not able to get any good photos. I used e-Bird to determine a good location to go look at some had been spotted by the local lake. I was able to spot a male, female and 3 juveniles flying, perching and doing some aerial acrobatics. The photos are of the male landing on a perch down by the lake.20200704-_MG_301220200704-_MG_3009
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        What beautiful birds! Thanks for sharing the lovely photos.
      • Betty
        Participant
        Chirps: 14
        I love photographing these birds and your photos are absolutely beautiful!           1
      • Dika
        Participant
        Chirps: 13
        What stunning birds and excellent photos.
    • nicolette
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      I am so fortunate to live on a property which is home to many species of birds. There are owls, hawks, ospreys, warblers, and many, many others. One of my favorite subjects are herons, specifically, night herons, which I have the opportunity to see Hunting along the shoreline and Roosting in the trees. I’ve learned a lot over the years from just observing them but found the Cornell site and the Merlin app very helpful in learning about their mating, nesting and community habits. Thank you Melissa! I would love to hear from and see any photos from the rest of you taking the course. Here are shots of two black crowned night herons and a juvenile yellow crested night heron. The light was poor on the black crowns and the lens is lImited to 6.7 aperture here.F33F1880-9C15-40D2-B667-1E3AB1D25C0C7420B37C-BEDD-44D4-A9B2-576AD000BF98A776453E-6D8A-410E-8983-024DF7E221ED
      • Laura
        Participant
        Chirps: 4
        I enjoyed your photos of herons, as I also am fascinated by them.  A recent surprise for me has been to learn that there is a large rookery of black-crowned night herons not too far from where I live in urban Chicago.  I had seen a small number of them in past years near the Lincoln Park Zoo, but the number is quite large now -- possibly even a few hundred.  I have grown to appreciate the  diversity of birds and other wildlife in the city, which gives me a lot to observe right here without traveling too far.
    • Pamela
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I live in St. Louis, Missouri. For the past 8 years, we have had a pair of breeding Mississippi Kites return to our neighborhood. They arrive like clockwork on May 8-11 and leave for South America August 29-31. This year, they have a sub adult kite with them. They court and mate in our old elm tree in the front yard and their juvenile offspring beg to be fed from same tree before they depart. This year I found one of their nests. They appear to making a second nest simultaneously that I have not located. I found all research on All About Birds. My photo of the couple in our tree features the male kite leaving the "frame" which is not technically a good photo technique but is certainly typical of trying to catch a photo of these dynamic birds. MIKIFlight1-6779 MIKIcouple2copy-
    • I discovered this Gray Catbird nest while the mother was still on her eggs and returned often for additional shots.  I really wanted a photo of her feeding her young (there are 3), but I became aware that while I was taking the photo of them crying out for food, the mother was actually on a lower branch watching me, clearly not coming back while in my presence.  I left immediately and this is the last picture I took.  I was pleased to hear Melissa's discussion of the Kingfisher nest because it solidified my gut feeling about moving away from this nest.DSC_1672
    • Idaho Shakes July 3 2020-7 I found this adult Cooper's Hawk with a meal because one of two young ones was begging for food. I kept hearing this sound, looked up and here was this sight, with one young one looking on and the other making all this racket. I was looking for warblers! Ha!
    • karol
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      While visiting my parents and brother in the foothills of A86D2916-4CF4-4A8E-AAF4-9F26F06EAF9ED0DA5C88-765B-4686-98FF-67D619476242B127DFBD-BFBE-4486-B657-22224A55ED0Brural central Montana I was fascinated by the family of Ravens. First I noticed the size. They were the size of a small child. Then their call. Frequent and loud with a gravely texture. At times annoying and other times endearing. As I choose them for a subject I witnessed their graceful flight patterns. They became distressed when I edged near their nest and I chose to not go any further. After a few days of rain they hunted and foraged close to our house. Worms seem to be a fine appetizer
    • David
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I know a fair amount about our local birds, but there are always surprises. We have an Oriole feeder.  This Spring several Baltimore Orioles would stop by to eat oranges and grape jelly (see below)  No surprise there.  They were likely migrants as they eventually disappeared. To my surprise when we put out a Hummingbird feeder the year it also attracted Orioles, who could reach the nectar.  This should make it possible to get a picture, if I'm patient enough, since they seem to make the rounds of the neighborhood.DSCN2666
      • Anne
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        Hooded Orioles visit my hummingbird feeders as well. In fact, they are so used to them, O stopped using the "Oriole" feeder.
    • Kevin
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      DSC00950I see swallow-tailed kites regularly these days. In this shot, a juvenile kite sat on the branch in this loblolly pine in my back yard while its parents circled around and brought it food. This went on for more than an hour. I love to watch these birds soar over my neighborhood.
    • Lynsey
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      I also spent some time watching a family of European barn swallows, observing how the young ones would start opening their mouths and calling before a parent came along to feed them, allowing me to get my camera at the ready. IMG_20200701_144309_129IMG_20200701_144641_201IMG_20200701_222006_352
      • Kevin
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        these are really great shots.
      • Lynsey
        Participant
        Chirps: 6

        @Kevin Thanks, Kevin

      • Betty
        Participant
        Chirps: 14
        These are fantastic!
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        Wonderful shots. Swallows are so hard to photograph in flight.
      • Anne
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        nicely done.
    • Lynsey
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      I live in the Netherlands so you might see some different birds from me. I listened to stonechat calls on the internet and tried to figure out the difference between the male and female calls. While doing so I found out why the bird is so called - because part of their call sounds like two stones being knocked together. I went to observe them at a local nature reserve as they are very vocal at the moment. They each had a similar pattern - the males at least - doing the same call, flitting to another spot, calling, then flitting to another spot and basically repeating the circuit. This helped me figure out where they might fly to next and how long they would stay there.IMG_20200701_221503_427IMG_20200702_114235_223IMG_20200702_222858_373
      • Betty
        Participant
        Chirps: 14
        Nice shots and what a beautiful bird, thanks for sharing!
      • Jan
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        How interesting Lynsey, to read about the different calls and then see your great photos. Thanks!
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        Beautiful. Enjoyed reading the your post about their call.
      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        Cute colorful bird, stonechat. I liked reading about the calls and how you approached learning the differences. Great idea.
    • helen
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      • We researched a new place nearby from the previous lesson by looking at the Explore tab on EBird.  We also went out earlier than we we often would, again after the previous lessons!  We saw more birds due to doing an auto trail and using the car as the blind.  Can’t believe how much we’ve learnt already! Saw a number of birds we’d not seen before including the Dickcissel and Northern Bobwhite. D1C9DD3D-E684-4B7E-806D-AA950A2F9C4C6054948B-C661-4DC0-A46C-BE683D4D9736
      • Great shots. Bobolink is a goal for me. :-)
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        What an unusual birds. Thanks for sharing these lovely photos.
    • Fred
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      I have been doing some bird photography close to home. Photos of the House Sparrow, American Robin, and Common Grackle were taken in my backyard. I enjoy watching the American Robins in my backyard hopping along the ground and listening for worms and larva that they pounce upon. House Sparrows are common and capturing the Grackle with a load of food in its beak was special._DSC1495_DSC1516_DSC1522
    • Mary Jo
      Participant
      Chirps: 12
      DSCN0157 DSCN0187 The virus has supplied both my wife and I with lots of time to observe our neighborhood friends. As recommended we have spent hours just watching their parenting and feeding traits. Knowing in advance where their favorite haunts are allows for planning the images. Our Atlanta backyard offers a lot of options for viewing entire families.
      • Jeanne C.
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        Mary Jo I love your photos, I have many photos of bluebirds but these are exceptional fullsizeoutput_87c3
    • Tricolored Heron 7.3.20 Found this Tricolored Heron at the junction of the marsh and beach on Tybee Island, Georgia.
      • Betty
        Participant
        Chirps: 14
        Love Tybee Island, visited a couple of times when we lived in Tennessee. Miss both places. Nice lighting on the heron. Maybe you know this, but there is a state park, Skidaway Island State Park, a short drive from Tybee Island. They have a nice short walking loop with many birding opportunities and a great viewing window at the visitor center. The Painted Buntings migrate to this area and return South in the fall.