Photography and Ornithology

Photography fits very well with many sciences and research projects. One of the most complimentary marriage between photography and science is Ornithology, or the study of birds. Ornithologists have a long history of developing graphical representations of their specimens, weather through sketches or through photography. Even the most novice bird watcher can contribute greatly to the ornithology societies by contributing photographs, geolocation coordinate tagging, and documenting observations. This article contains a few suggestions intended to help you refine your photographic bird watching activities.

Do Your Research

You can easily identify common birds common to your area by conducting a little bit of research. There are many web sites that provide locations and types of birds commonly found int your area. One such site is the “What Bird” web site ( What Bird provides a search utility that allows you to search by location, shape, family, and name. Additionally, the What Bird web site provides an audio clip for each bird to help you identify the birds by sound before you see them. Other sources include many well-known publications in the form of books, magazines, and periodicals.

The Early Bird

We’ve all heard the saying “The early bird catches the worm.” In photography, it can be said “The early worm catches the bird.” Many don’t know this, but birds understand that the best time of day to have their picture taken is during the “golden hour,” which happens to occur during their feeding periods. Most birds are active during feeding time, usually early morning and late afternoon. Plan your outings according to the bird’s habits and you will not be disappointed.

The Right Tools for the Job

Bird watching poses a unique challenge to photographers. Most birds will not allow you to get too close, so you will need equipment capable of capturing them in high quality. You will almost certainly need a strong telephoto lens to be an effective bird photographer. Lenses equipped with image stabilizers are best for this application.

Lying in Wait

For those who are serious about ornithology, the greatest reward is being able to photograph an elusive specimen in the birds natural habitat. Oftentimes, this may take quite a bit of planning. The time to prepare your observation point is not when you expect to see the birds. Set up your position in advance and make every attempt to reduce any reflections. A simple blind can be build from lightweight material, such as a PVC frame covered with burlap if natural materials are not available.


Once you have photographed the birds, take time to catalog your findings. Cataloging can be as simple as documenting the time, date, and location of your observation with an accompanying photograph to a detailed synopsis of observations made over a period of time. If you find something interesting or unique, consider contacting one of the many ornithology societies and share your observations.

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