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How to Photograph Birds in the Nest

If you’ve never photographed large birds in a nest, do an online search for “rookeries” in your state. These areas are where birds can find materials and a sheltered area for building nests and tending to the eggs during the gestation period, and are a great place to capture compelling images of birds.

If you’re lucky enough to have a rookery within driving distance, you’re in for a treat. At a rookery, you get an opportunity to see bird family units. You can follow the process from week to week as the birds build their nest and protect the eggs from predators, and then observe the chicks after they hatch.

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A rookery may be home to many species of birds. Birds of a feather congregate together. Different species congregate in different areas of a rookery. Rookeries are like bird condominiums. Here are some techniques for photographing birds in a rookery:

  • Scout the rookery’s location a day or two before you get ready to photograph the birds. Notice where the nests are and the direction from which the sun is shining. This will also tell you the best time to photograph the birds.

  • Photograph the birds at the beginning of the mating season when they’re setting up their nests. The males will fly to the shoreline and pick up twigs and branches. They hand off the building materials to their mates and the nest is built. You’ll also get some great photos when the birds repair their nests.

  • Stick around into the late afternoon. The birds often return en masse from the day’s activities. You’ll get great pictures even if the birds are backlit.

  • Use a long telephoto. A focal length of 400mm or a medium telephoto with a focal length of 200 with 2X tele-extender is recommended. If you can afford a longer lens, you’ll be able to get even closer. Shy away from mirror reflex lenses; the image quality leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Mount your camera on a tripod. When you photograph birds in a nest, the slightest camera movement results in a blurry image.

  • Disable image stabilization if your camera is mounted on a tripod. Otherwise, use it to ensure a sharp image.

  • Switch to a single auto-focus point and focus on the bird’s eye that is closest to the camera. If the eyes are not in focus, the viewer thinks the entire image is out of focus.

  • Arrive early and set up before the birds wake up. This often means getting there before the sun rises.

  • Watch for other birds stalking the area for an easy meal of chicks. Birds are fiercely protective of their chicks; you may have the opportunity to photograph a bird defending its nest.

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