Habitual Bird Behaviour

Observing habitual bird behaviour is an important component of capturing successful photographs of birds exhibiting various actions. This article shares a 15-frame Pro Capture H image run of of male cardinal taking flight from our pond and discusses considerations that contributed to these photographs.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

At first blush where I have positioned the male cardinal in the composition may look a bit strange. The bird was taking a bath on the left-hand side of our pond which is below our kitchen window.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

In terms of exhibiting habitual bird behaviour, I knew from ongoing observations that most birds visiting our pond fly from right to left when leaving. Even though the cardinal was facing towards the right, I anticipated that it would change direction as it took flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

There are logical reasons for this common flight path. There are a deck, outdoor furniture and a gazebo to the right hand side of our pond. All of these represent obstacles to flight. It is much safer for birds to take flight in the opposite direction. Birds know that predators are usually ambush hunters, so they tend to use open flight paths when possible.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

I positioned the cardinal in the bottom right hand corner since it would need to launch at about a 45-degree angle to clear the flagstone border that runs around the perimeter of the top portion of our pond.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

Whenever I use Pro Capture H I anticipate that my ‘money shot’ will occur towards the middle of my image run. Assuming of course that my shutter release timing was appropriate.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

As noted in previous articles I have my Pre-Shutter Frames and my Frame Limiter both set to 15. Once I fully depress my shutter release the 15 Pre-Shutter Frames will be committed to memory, and my E-M1X will not capture any additional frames. I always use Pro Capture H utilizing a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second. This allows me 1/4 second to respond to a bird taking flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

I do my best to time my shutter release just before a subject bird leaves the frame. This gives me the most opportunities to capture potentially usable photographs of a small bird in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

The photograph above is the 8th one in this 15 frame image run and is the ‘money shot’ referred to earlier. Obviously my backyard pond during early spring is not the most attractive environment. Imagine this cardinal taking flight from a more natural setting.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

Observing habitual bird behaviour helps us compose a photograph anticipating where our ‘money shot’ will be created in the image run.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

It can also help us identify fishing and hunting behaviours before they occur. Birds typically signal any aggression in advance.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

It’s been my experience that most folks who enjoy bird photography are willing to provide insights about habitual bird behaviours when asked for assistance.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

It’s best to wait for a lull in the action and not dominate the other photographer’s time. Asking specific questions like, “How did you know that bird was going to take flight?” enables quick uptake of key insights.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

Knowing how to use our camera gear effectively is only one part of having a successful bird photography session.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

Taking the time to learn habitual bird behaviour is equally important. Its not enough to be ‘at the right place at the right time’. We can still miss all kinds of wonderful photographs if we fail to recognize image opportunities in advance of them occurring. Understanding habitual bird behaviour is critical.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.2, 1/2500, ISO-5000, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, subject distance 6.3 metres

Spending even 15 to 20 minutes intently watching birds every time we’re out with our cameras can pay huge dividends.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted for each photograph.

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4 thoughts on “Habitual Bird Behaviour”

  1. Thanks, Tom, very nice article. I will practice this today at the nearby pond.
    A few weeks ago, probably after reading one of your other articles, I took the time to just set out a lawn chair maybe 20 feet from a bush in the pond. When I first slowly approached the bush to set out the chair, the birds scattered. But I sat down and waited. In 15 minutes, they returned. Tried it again the next day. Again 15 or 20 minutes and they returned. Now I don’t worry so much about the initial approach, and, instead, plan on getting a good shot after I am settled in and the birds are comfortable with me being there.

  2. Excellent shots and information. Do you use Pro-Capture H for birds landing as well as taking off?

    Joel

    1. Hi Joel,

      Yes I use Pro Capture H to capture images of birds landing. Here are a few articles that may be of interest: https://smallsensorphotography.com/sparrows-visiting-feeders, https://smallsensorphotography.com/both-eyes-open , https://smallsensorphotography.com/unexpected-cardinal-captures, https://smallsensorphotography.com/photographing-incoming-birds.

      I’ve also been doing some field work experimenting with Pro Capture H photographing birds in mid-air… that still needs some additional work on my part. 🙂

      Tom

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