Shorebirds, water birds, birds of prey, exotic birds, and song birds are just some of the many types of bird subjects that inspire great images. And no matter where you live, you can find some of these birds to photograph.
The great thing about photographing birds is that you can start in your own back yard. Plant a few bird-friendly plants, set out some birdbaths and feeders, and build a blind to attract desirable subjects. If you want birds that do not inhabit your area, or you want more skittish birds like hawks, you will need to consider wildlife models and zoos.
One of the best ways to find birds of prey is to see if you have a bird rescue center in your area. These organizations typically provide medical care and shelter for birds that were injured or orphaned in the wild. These places can be an ideal source for photographers who want access to birds that are not normally approachable.
Call around until you find a rescue center and then introduce yourself. Tell the operators of the center that you are a wildlife photographer and would like a chance to photograph the birds they work with. Promise to follow any guidelines they establish, agree to give them copies of the images you make for promotional use, and if necessary, offer to make a donation to help them with their work. This can be a great way to get close-up portraits of birds under controlled conditions where you can predetermine the background and look for the right light. Try to find birds that have minimal injuries or that have been nearly rehabilitated. Even if a bird has a bad wing for instance, you may still be able to make a striking head and shoulders portrait.
Zoos are another great source for bird photography. Many zoos maintain large bird collections. In some cases, these birds may even be in areas that are photographically accessible. The San Diego Wildlife Park and San Diego Zoo have several bird exhibits with natural habitats that make great photographic backgrounds. The San Diego Wildlife Park features an African bird exhibit that allows many great photo opportunities with general admission. Some of the best bird photographs we’ve made have been at zoos.
If your local zoo doesn’t have the birds in an area that you can photograph, call the zoo society and see if you can arrange for special access through a docent or handler. Many zoos will make this access available to you in return for rights to use the images. Still others may charge a fee. If they have good specimens, it may be worthwhile.
Private game owners often will allow photographers access for a fee. In Roma, Texas, Roel Ramirez has established blinds and feeders on a section of his property offering some of the best opportunities to photograph songbirds you will ever find.
And don’t forget aquariums. They are likely to have water bird exhibits or habitats that attract non-captive birds. In Newport, Ore., at the Newport Aquarium, the puffin exhibit is superb.
And then there are wildlife refuges. Places like Bosque del Apache in central New Mexico are a bird photographer’s dream.
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