In wildlife, especially birds, it becomes very important for one to study their behaviour, habits and psychology, in order to successfully document them. Photographing birds is anyway a difficult proposition, due to their extremely quick and sudden responses and to catch them in flight is nothing short of a challenge. Therefore it becomes important to study their behaviour and know about them beforehand so one can be better prepared to photograph them, especially in flight.
I have now been studying birds for just over 6 months, pushed by a friend to document all that I have photographed in my years of waiting in the wild for a big cat to wake up from its slumber or looking for one – thats where most of my bird photography began and ended. I couldn’t tell a stork from a thrush – they were just simply birds! Upon being pushed into this literally, when I did document my birds under various species and headings, I realised that I already had documented over 500 species. I think that was motivation enough for me to seriously start studying it – And since then I have successfully completed a two-level home ornithology course offered by a premier school in India and am currently pursuing an Ornithology distant learning course with Cornell Lab of Ornithology, USA.
With the lockdown, I started to document them from my balcony and terrace and study their behaviour first hand. It is this interest and my fixation with learning to take great images of birds in flight that I am here, patiently honing my skills in this department. The one advantage that comes with learning at the same place at the same time everyday, day after day, is that you can familiarise yourself with the lighting conditions and work them to your best advantage. The best hours to photograph them are the mornings and evenings, especially during the golden hours, but the birds that are coming to mine come around all day and therefore on the days that the sun is not there (as the monsoon season has started) one can shoot them all day. That eliminates the harsh sun during the days and provides a natural diffuser.
I like photographing them during the evenings and especially when it has rained just before and the sun comes out, it projects a beautiful magical light but since that doesn’t happen everyday and is rare, its important to know what your best chances are to get some magical shots. My practice sessions though happen at any time of the day. But having said that, I still am trying to catch the magical light for my images that will go towards the final assignment.
The birds that are coming to my balcony vary from Red-vented Bulbul, House Crow, Common Pigeon, Rufous Tree pie, Brown Rock Chat, Indian Robin, Magpie Robin, Common Mynah, Barbets, etc. Most of them are very shy birds and as soon as they sense a human presence they scoot. To successfully start photographing birds, one must start with the bolder ones so as not to completely get frustrated with getting nothing. I had to photograph birds keeping in mind that I should be able to photograph them a lot so their coming in to my spaces was extremely crucial. That basically left me with two options – House Crows & Common Pigeons. One thing that is common between the two species is that they are both considered to be vermin and both are considered ugly. Another common factor is that while the crows are fairly bolder birds, they are highly intelligent as well. It did not take much time for me to befriend them when I lay out some of their favourite foods like Chicken pellets (dog food) & some boiled eggs, soon they were frequenting my balcony, calling out me with large cawing sounds if I am late in laying their food out. They are there the minute I appear and are barely two feet away from me as they watch me clean their water bowls and feeder trays. They are even known to recognise humans and am sure they know me pretty well by now. my practise sessions are always with them. They are funny creatures and I can have a conversation with them. They also yell at me the days I am late and caw at me loudly.
It’s important to know the diet requirements of the birds so as to not feed them something unhealthy. It’s equally important to keep their feeders clean at all times. Its always advisable to put forth the well being of your subject first and that is why it becomes important to familiarise oneself with everything about your subject. Besides keeping everything clean and healthy, it will give you the satisfaction that you are doing everything ethically. Researching about the birds behaviour will help you predict their behaviour and result in getting better opportunities to photograph them. As with all my subjects in the wild, a gradual, patient and calm approach toward the animal/bird in question always pays well as one is able to win the trust of the animal and the animal then allows you to come closer to them.
Patience is the key to wildlife photography and especially with birds. I spent a long time just sitting and observing birds without even photographing them, so I am now familiar with all their unique and different behaviours and it is quite fulfilling and satisfying. And knowing this information greatly assists me in capturing better photographs of them.
It was extremely fascinating to read about these highly intelligent birds, who are often considered ominous, sinister and fore-bearers of bad news or bad luck. They are wonderful agents of nature who help keep harmful insects away from crops and are naturally cleansing agents of the environment. They are considered to be symbols of good fortune by native American tribes and I choose to go with them. Birds are extremely important and beneficial to us and without them, humans would greatly suffer. Therefore, it becomes important that we do not harm them at least if not anything else.
Key learning outcomes:
- Study about the behaviour of the birds that you are trying to take pictures of beforehand.
- Familiarise yourself with the lighting conditions in your garden, terrace, balcony and accordingly note the best hours most suitable to get the best images.
- Put your birds favourite foods and water out to attract them.
- Camouflage/hide yourself well in order to make yourself inconspicuous and not to spook them.
- Keep the feeders and water bowls clean and be ethical in your approach. Remember no photograph is more important than the safety of your subject.
- Patience is the key to bird photography
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