How to attract winter birds and get great images

blue jayA blue jay perched close to my feeders

This is the time of year when I start to get my bird feeders ready and put out seeds. I often hear people say I put out feeders and no birds ever come. Winter birds make great photography subjects but there is a right way to ensure you get visitors to your feeders. 

pine grosbeaks in the snowA pine grosbeak on a perch on a wintery day

There are certain steps that can take to ensure a greater likelihood of attracting birds to your backyard The main thing is to understand bird behavior and realize they have routines. Birds establish feeding routes that they follow each day. As a new bird comes into your area for the winter such as a pine grosbeak it explores and learns its winter home. As it does it imprints spots that it wants to return to the next day for food until it establishes a regular route and a daily routine. This means you should

  • Place seed out earlier, so that when birds first arrive they find seeds in your feeders and make this part of their return. An empty bird feeder will be passed by and if this happens it will not be established as part of the bird's route and they become dependent on that food source.
  • Be committed to putting seeds out regularly, once you start you need to continue to feed the birds until they leave in the spring as your feeders are now part of their routine. 
  • Know the preferences of the birds in your area and put out a variety of seeds. For jays and grosbeaks I like black owl sunflower seeds, for nuthatches, chickadees and redpolls mixed bird seed, and for woodpeckers suet. 
Dark eyed junco framed by bokehA dark eyed junco framed by bokeh

In terms of photographing birds, try to find a natural clear perch close to your feeders and wait. I want a branch that does not have a lot of offshoots. I trim back my cherries trees so the birds have the ability to land in a clear spot. Try to align yourself with a dark background. I have spruce trees in my yard, so I try to place these in the background of my images You want to avoid the sky as being your background and have a nice contrasting creamy background to highlight your subject. Snowy days can make some of the best day photography days. 

woodpecker in the snowA hairy woodpecker on a snowy day.

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