Flock Behaviour

This article discusses how, when birds demonstrate flock behaviour, it can be leveraged to create an abundance of bird-in-flight photographs. I was recently at LaSalle Park in Burlington and had the opportunity to capture a good assortment of images of ducks in flight. A small group of ducks demonstrated flock behaviour in a fairly predictable manner which created the opportunity.

Flock behaviour follows three basic approaches that can be readily observed. These include:

  • Separation. To avoid overcrowding birds will move away from immediate neighbours. This is sometimes stimulated by the aggressive behaviour of one of more birds.
  • Alignment. This is when birds move in the same direction of other birds in the area whether in-flight or on the ground.
  • Cohesion. This is when birds will head towards an existing congregation of other birds.

When we observe groups of birds we can pick out these flock behaviours and begin to anticipate what individual birds may do.

In terms of the images of ducks in flight that are included in this article, I observed a small group of about 20 ducks milling around together on the surface of the water. They were proximate to a raised cement parking area and a number of ducks were extending their necks and were peering towards that raised area. This indicated that at least some of the ducks were considering flying up from the water to land on the higher elevation.

I knew from previous experience that once a bird or two took flight that most of the other birds in the immediate area would likely follow suit. This would create a flurry of in-flight activity and opportunities to capture a selection of images.

During previous visits to LaSalle Park I also observed ducks gathering at the edge of the cement pier, then flying down to the surface of the water. If I waited for a while I would likely have a second flurry of in-flight activity and the corresponding photographic opportunities created by them.

As it turned out the flock behaviour did occur with the ducks first flying up onto the pier, then a couple of minutes later flying back down to the water. In about 5 minutes I was able to capture over 100 decent photographs of ducks in flight. When this type of flock behaviour occurs one needs to work very quickly. Good eye/hand coordination is beneficial.

Here are some sample images captured during the flock behaviour of the ducks.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3635 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 253 mm, efov 506 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3320 pixels on the width, subject distance 29.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 253 mm, efov 506 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3648 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.8 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 253 mm, efov 506 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3852 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-4000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3408 pixels on the width, subject distance 26.6 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-3200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4873 pixels on the width, subject distance 27.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to
3516 pixels on the width, subject distance 31.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3624 pixels on the width, subject distance 29.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3492 pixels on the width, subject distance 29.6 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4093 pixels on the width, subject distance 27.6 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3816 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4608 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3960 pixels on the width, subject distance 29.6 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-3200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4500 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.5 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-3200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3867 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3373 pixels on the width, subject distance 28.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3721 pixels on the width, subject distance 29.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4729 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3853 pixels on the width, subject distance 22.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-3200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3324 pixels on the width, subject distance 23.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4512 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4440 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 361 mm, efov 722 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4848 pixels on the width, subject distance 16.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 361 mm, efov 722 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-2000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3060 pixels on the width, subject distance 14.6 metres

Successful bird photographers study their subjects to discern patterns of behaviour. Taking a few minutes to take note of flock behaviour can help create a multitude of photographic opportunities as a photographer is better able to anticipate what the birds are likely to do.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced using my standard process.  This is the 1,109  article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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