Sparrows Visiting Feeders

A couple of days ago I spent a few hours photographing sparrows visiting feeders in my backyard. This article shares a good selection of photographs and discusses some of the techniques used to capture the images.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.4 metres

When photographing sparrows visiting feeders one of the first considerations is to find a good shooting angle that provides a reasonably clear background, as well as good lighting.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.1 metres

Sparrows generally are not overly shy birds, but if a photographer is too close to feeders it can significantly reduce the number of birds that visit.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.2 metres

It is always important to watch birds for a while to gain an understanding of typical flight patterns. This will be very helpful when choosing an appropriate focusing point on a bird feeder.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/4000, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.1 metres

There can often be a number of birds on a particular feeder at the same time. This can produce some interesting images of birds interacting with each other.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 260mm, efov 520mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 6.1 metres

Small birds, like sparrows, are fast flyers with rapid wing movements. A photographer will need to decide how much wing blur they want in their images. I typically use a shutter speed in the 1/2000 to 1/4000 range for small birds.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.2 metres

When selecting what aperture to use a photographer will need to consider how much depth-of-field they will need as well as lighting conditions. For most of the images in this article I used an aperture of f/8. Depth-of-field will be affected by the focal length of your lens, aperture, the distance of the background from the subject, and the distance of the camera from the subject. There are depth-of-field calculators online that can be referenced.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.2 metres

I shoot in Manual mode and usually let my ISO float by using an Auto-ISO setting with my camera when photographing birds. Other photographers may want to select a specific ISO value for their images. The photographs in this article were captured using ISO values from ISO-1250 up to ISO-5000. As long as the backgrounds in my photographs are not overly dark I never hesitate shooting my Olympus OM-D E-M1X up to ISO-6400. I regularly shoot my Nikon 1 gear up to ISO-3200. To deal with noise I use the PRIME noise reduction function in DxO PhotoLab 2.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.1 metres

I find that the most interesting wing and body positions of small birds occur when they are taking flight or coming in to land. All of the images in this article were captured to illustrate birds flying towards feeders and preparing to land on them.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, -1 step, 1/2000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8 metres

To capture a range of wing and body positions a fast frame rate is recommended. All of the photographs in this article were captured using the Olympus Pro Capture function set to 60 frames-per-second. I had my Pre-Shutter Frames set to 15 and my Frame Count Limiter also set to 15.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 260mm, efov 520mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 6.1 metres

Shutter release timing is critical in order to capture a good assortment of photographs with the sparrows in various body positions. Since it is very difficult to pan with small birds in flight, it can be beneficial to focus on the bird feeder instead. This allows a photographer to press their shutter release when the sparrow is flying into the focal plane that will deliver an in-focus image.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/7.1, 1/2500, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.4 metres

Photographers using cameras that do not have Pro Capture would have to begin their image run as the sparrow is approaching the feeder and flies into their pre-focused area. When I use Pro Capture I half depress my shutter release to store images in temporary memory, then fully depress my shutter release once the sparrow has landed on the feeder. This locks in a predetermined number of photographs that were stored in temporary memory. I place a single auto-focus point on the spot on the feeder where I anticipate birds will land.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.4 metres

Regardless of whether your camera has Pro Capture or not, it is extremely helpful to use ‘both eyes open’ technique when doing this type of photography. This really helps a photographer see when a subject bird is approaching a feeder, and decide when to fully depress their shutter release.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.3 metres

Even though sparrows are very common birds that we often take for granted, they can still be great photographic subjects. Especially when they are coming in to land.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/7.1, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.3 metres

Capturing a photograph of a sparrow in mid-air with its digits extended prior to landing can make for an interesting image.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, 1/2500, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.4 metres

It is also possible to capture quite lovely images of sparrows with their flight and tail feathers spread as they fly towards a feeder. With some nice lighting these common birds can yield some great photos!

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, -0.7 step, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.1 metres

If you’re like me and have been spending the bulk of your time at home the past number of weeks don’t despair! There are probably some small birds close at hand that can make very interesting photographic subjects!

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/7.1, -0.3 step, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.2 metres

Technical Note:
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 were cropped to varying degrees, then resized for web use.

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6 thoughts on “Sparrows Visiting Feeders”

  1. Tom,

    I know a lot of people, some of whom are birders themselves, who consider sparrows rather ordinary. I always thought I was an anomaly because I have always liked them. In fact, I feed them on my tiny window garden and surreptitiously observed them from the vantage of horizontal blinds that cover the window.

    I agree with you, the most interesting patterns and wing shapes are formed during take-off and landing. Interesting how they use their wings like ailerons, flaps and brake to slow down, fix body position, avoid rolling prior to landing. The Oly allows sequences that enables us to sort of observe the body mechanics as well as appreciate the beauty of a bird otherwise deemed too ordinary.

    Please continue to share with us your nature “spectacles”. They help deepen our appreciation and understanding of nature’s miracles as well as take our mind off, even for just a while, from the pandemic.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Thanks for your comment Oggie… I’m glad you enjoyed the images!

      I think one of the wonders of photography is being able to capture ‘slices of life’ that allow us to more fully appreciate the world around us. Sparrows are plentiful, and I suppose in that context are rather ordinary, but capturing their behaviours can be an extraordinary experience!

      Tom

  2. Great photos Tom. I have never seen photos of small birds in those positions except for your various posts. The wing spreads of the various landings and the digits completely in front prior to landing really give us a wonderful opportunity to see how these birds fly and land. Thanks for the continuing education as well as the joy of seeing your great photos.

    1. Thanks Joel… I’m glad you are enjoying the photographs!

      It is an interesting experience capturing these images. Although I can always tell if my timing was on or not, one never really knows what the photographs will reveal until actually looking at them. It’s like opening a box of chocolates… a ‘Gump’ experience.

      Tom

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