This article features a woodpecker doing a pre-flight crouch. A few readers who are starting to pursue bird photography have sent me emails and asked how a bird signals it is about to take flight. I thought these woodpecker images could help illustrate the pre-flight crouch that is commonly used by small birds.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
It is sometimes difficult to discern when a small bird is doing a pre-flight crouch since many of them have fairly short legs. As a small bird, like the woodpecker above, is preparing to take flight it will press its body downward. With some birds its legs will be barely visible.
When we look at a small bird’s physiology we sometimes make a mistake by thinking that its knee joint bends in the opposite direction of a human’s.
We often do this because we assume that its ankle joint is located down further on its leg close to the point from where its digits extend out. Actually, its ankle joint is much further up its leg compared to a human. This link has a good diagram showing the skeleton of a bird.
In small birds the bones in its legs are similar in length which creates a very powerful scissor-like shape. As you can see in the first three photographs above, as a small bird takes flight from a crouching position, the structure of its leg allows it to almost explode forward.
When propelling itself forward from its pre-flight crouch a small bird almost immediately becomes airborne and begins very rapid wing beats. This adds to the difficulty in capturing small birds taking flight as they often do a series of short duration crouches before actually launching into the air. A photographer can quickly fill up the buffer in their camera by not timing their shutter release properly.
The six photographs in this article were all captured in a total of 1/10 of a second. This illustrates how critical shutter release timing is to capture this type of bird behaviour. The Olympus Pro Capture H mode takes the guesswork out of this type of image capture. By waiting for the bird to actually take flight when using Pro Capture H, a photographer can be assured of capturing the action.
When photographing small birds taking flight I use Pro Capture H set to 60 frames per second, 15 Pre-Shutter Frames and a Total Frame Limiter of 15. Pro Capture H settings are found under the Gear icon, HSettings, Pro Cap on your Olympus camera.
I position a single AF point on the subject bird and frame it on the side of my composition. This allows it to fly through my frame, allowing me a better opportunity to capture the action sequence. Since the first frame of a Pro Capture H run sets the auto-focus for the balance of the frames, it is important to photograph the subject bird at a 90-degree angle to the focal plane of your camera.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Photographs are displayed as 100% captures without any cropping.
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