Many beginning photographers dream of taking images in far off places of exotic birds, and there is nothing wrong with that. But we shouldn’t overlook the advantages of photographing birds close to home.

  • When you photograph species local to your area you can spend time learning about the behavior of the birds, the habitats they prefer and when and where to find them in the best light. You’ll also learn to anticipate certain actions of the birds as well.
  • When you photograph close to home you have ample opportunities to hone your techniques, learn your cameras settings as well as the strengths and limitations of your equipment.
  • You will begin to see the seasonal patterns of migration for birds and will be able to anticipate when those species will be arriving in your locale.

Ring-necked Duck on icy pondMale Ring-necked Duck on a winter day – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f8,1/800, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light.

The Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) photo above was taken at a city park pond a few blocks from where I live on a cold but sunny winter day. The duck was closer to the shoreline than it would be in summer because of the ice in the center of the pond. I’ll know this coming winter to look to see when the ice forms and will be able to anticipate that the ducks and grebes may be closer to shore.

Another reason to photograph birds closer to home are the resources that you can tap into to locate good birding spots.

  • Join or access the website for your local Audubon Chapter. You will find a wealth of information about the birds and quite often they write about great locations to find them.
  • Find the local bird list-serve or online bird listing sites, you will be up to date with which birds are being seen where.
  • If there is a local website (like here) you can find information on locations to see & photograph birds there too.

Red-breasted Merganser male Male Red-breasted Merganser – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, 1/800, ISO 400, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The Male Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) photograph above was also taken at the pond near where I live, in fact all of the images you will see on this post were taken there.

This merganser stayed at the pond for several weeks allowing me plenty of time to practice my exposure settings for this species in breeding plumage. The high contrast of blacks, whites and reds make it a challenge to expose correctly. Because of my close proximity to this location I was able to spend quite a few mornings photographing this bird. I didn’t have to travel far plus I could sit and sip my coffee while I waited for it to get closer.

Pied-billed Grebe head turnPied-billed Grebe look back – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I took this Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) photo above because when I looked through my viewfinder I loved the golden tones of the water caused by the reflection of a stand of dried Phragmites along the shoreline and was very pleased with the pose of the grebe in this image.

I don’t believe that you need to go to exotic locations to create beautiful and compelling images, you can most likely accomplish that within less than 10 -15 miles from where you live. Even a town dump might be a fine location if you watch the background!

  • Look for “greenspaces” within your community. These areas can offer food, water and shelter, birds may live there all year long or migrate through.
  • Look for small city or county parks and visit them at different times of the day and through the year, you might be surprised by what might show up.

American White Pelican in Salt Lake County, UtahAmerican White Pelican about to lift off – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

A flock of American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) flew down to the pond on the day I took the image above. I liked the pose this one took and how the feathers on the top of the head lifted up with a slight breeze.

Get to know the managers, caretakers and visitors to your local parks, greenspaces and other areas, you will be surprised at how much you can learn from talking to people. Quite often a big lens is enough to encourage strangers to speak to you and they might share another location you might not be aware of.

American Coot and reflectionAmerican Coot and reflections – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light.

American Coots (Fulica americana) can be challenging to photograph because of their dark plumage and by photographing close to home you will have time to learn how to expose them correctly.

By knowing your photographic locations well, learning what species of birds are present and at which time of the year, knowing the lighting in those locales at different times of the day and becoming knowledgeable about the subjects you want to photograph you can produce images that rival or surpass those taken in exotic locations.

And you won’t have to take out a second mortgage to do it.


All the images shown here were taken before I purchased my Nikon D300