Bird Photography: Helping Bluebirds Nest

| April 28, 2012
Bird Photography: Bluebirds in Flight

Bluebird in flight. Same bird two moments in time.

(Photo details: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 300m f/2.8 telephoto, 1/2000 sec, f/9.0, ISO 400)

Bird Photography Opens your Eyes to Nature

Birding and bird photography has opened my eyes. Not just to a new art form but but also to the importance of preserving what is naturally beautiful. From fleeting scenes inspired by the coming and going of ever changing light to the seemingly impossible colors on the back of a bluebird, I am a committed observer to the beauty that surrounds me. It is everywhere. Once tuned, our eyes consume so much more than appears on the the surface of our everyday lives. So many of us rush through the day with our eyes on the finish line – a pillow at the end of the day upon which we rest our head only to start it all over again the next morning. I too have been guilty of this.

Bird Photography: Nesting Bluebirds

Nesting bluebirds

I freely admit that I initially built and installed a bluebird box for selfish reasons. I simply wanted to make bird photography easier and create ideal conditions for photographing bluebirds. After installing the box within an eye shot of our study window, I was disappointed that it remained empty for months. What appeared to be a safe haven from the harsh winter elements turned out to be a place birds of any sort found undesirable. Until now.

Bird Photography: Male Bluebird

Our male bluebird

While working in our garden last weekend, I noticed that the roof of the bluebird box had warped. I dropped the rake I was using, pulled the box off of its post, and took it to the garage for repair. Then I thought, “Why bother, the birds don’t appear to like it anyway.” So I put the box on a shelf in the garage and went back outside to tend to the garden. As I was turning mulch, I noticed shadows rapidly swirling on the sidewalk below me and a frantic chirping sound in my ears.

Bird Photography: Bluebirds Nesting

Female bluebird building her nest

As I looked up, there they were. A male bluebird up on the gutter and a female perched on a spruce tree just beyond the pole without a bluebird box. They seemed to be saying, “Where the heck is the house? It was here yesterday!” I thought, “Holy smokes, they’re moving in!” I quickly dropped the rake, grabbed the box from the garage, reattached it to the pole, and secured the warped roof with a bungee cord. Within minutes, the female bluebird was busy gathering mulch from the garden and building a nest. It is hard to express the excitement that I felt at that moment. Not only was I going to get my photographs, I was now personally attached to these little creatures of nature.

Bird Photography: Bluebird Nest

Bluebird nest

After roughly a week of gathering, her nest is almost complete. I made a new roof and improved the latch to make sure predators would not be able to get to the eggs. While observing behaviors, which ultimately leads to better photographs, I noticed a pesky tree swallow lurking about. So far, the male has been able to keep him a bay. I fear that he will continue to be an issue and I plan to take all precautionary measures possible to protect the nest.

Bird Photography: Tree Sparrow

A competing tree sparrow

What was initially a selfish act is now a calling for preservation. My temporary inhabitants piqued my interest. While pursuing bird photography, I have learned that the growing use of pesticides and the clearing of dead trees in developed areas has left the bluebird without many options for propagation. The bluebird population has plummeted and they desperately need our help. They cannot create their own shelters and their natural alternatives are dwindling. Bluebird boxes are available for as little as $20 and they serve an important role in helping to increase their numbers. Consider contributing to their preservation by picking one up if you live in an area that attracts bluebirds. It will help them out and it may the first step you take in slowing down to take in the beauty around you!

5/4/2012 – Update! Just found two eggs in the nest!

5/27/2012 – Update! The babies have arrived and you can see them here.

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Category: Bird Photography, Photography

Comments (13)

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  1. Jim Denham says:

    Great post and great images Lee! I love Bluebirds, and many other birds for sure. When I lived in TN, I built a Martin House and put up bird feeders so that I could watch them, and this was before getting into photography. They are a treat and I’m glad you’re enjoying them, as well as trying to preserve them!

  2. Nancie says:

    I am not fortunate to have blue birds in my area, but I do have multiple bird houses setup in my 2 dwarf trees. Most of the houses are occupied by the sparrows, although the chickadees have the one with the smaller opening as their own. Every spring I get new tenants, and I love to watch as they go about building, hatching & feeding. Watching nature in action gives not only joy to those watching, it has the wonderful ability to make many of life’s problems seem small & insignificant. Great post Lee, and love your bluebird photos!

  3. Terry says:

    Your photography is just stunning. This post has inspired me to go out and get a bluebird box. Thank you!

    I had a similar situation with a birdbath in our yard. For half the summer, it seemed, no birds used it. Then all of a sudden, it seemed like they “discovered” it, and we enjoyed the show for the duration of the season. And each year that followed.

  4. Lee says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Nancie, funny that sparrows are not even a native bird but are so abundant. Agree on the perspective comment. So true! Photographing sparrows and the bluebirds is difficult because they fly so fast. I took a picture of a couple of doves and it was like 747s taking off compared to the bluebirds!

    Terry, we have a both attached to our feeder and also enjoy the activity. There is not a ton of water around here and I think the birds really appreciate having clean water to drink.

    Jim, get that long 200mm 2.8 out and get going! I really love the fast lenses for this type of photography. The cameras today are so amazing for capturing wildlife action!

  5. How beautiful. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos and story. I am so glad you were around to notice the parent bird’s confusion at the misplaced house.

  6. Sylvia Young says:

    Wow,I had no idea that blue birds were really that blue,they are magnificent.We have blue tits which are really cute but certainly not as colourful.great photos Lee.


  7. A.Barlow says:

    Those are awesome shots man. Nice job on finally getting a family to move in. It’s to bad that many birds are having this issue. In my neck of the woods in the gnat catcher that is having issues due to the loss of sage brush habitat.

  8. What a fabulous post, Lee! Gosh, I hope your new friends have a happy future; no doubt they will with you being so concerned about their stewardship. Great work, Lee, absolutely top drawer my friend!

  9. Jenni Twidle says:

    Dear Lee,
    I tried to send this letter with some photos attached , but your mail box wouldn’t accept it. I’ve removed the photos (you can see them on my blog Jeanettes Jottings below) so here goes!

    Oh Lee, what wonderful photos. I love the story of the bird box. I agree that nature gives us so much pleasure. We have blue tits nesting in the tit box this year (having moved the box a few yards to face a different direction). Walking in the rain yesterday we came across a butterfly, we identified as a male Orange Tip, when we got home. I enclose the photos I took. Nothing like your superb photography, but I thought you might be interested. I only have a small digital camera and not much of a clue about settings. I apologise about the size, but I am on my own today, with nobody to advise me.

    We have a cotoneaster framing the window where we eat and it is covered with so many bees of different varieties. We are having fun trying to identify them. I saw a Bee Fly last week, but by the time I had fetched my camera it was gone. If you’ve never seen one ,turn it up. My husband made a bee nesting box out of short lengths of hollow bamboo canes and the solitary bees loved it. They laid their eggs, sealed the holes up with mud or in the case of the leaf cutter bees with bits of leaf. Fascinating to watch. Most of them hatched out the following year.

    Kind regards

  10. Gorgeous photos and lovely post! And what beautiful little birds. We don’t have bluebirds in our region (though I think they were here historically). But I can really relate to your story – we are going through a waiting game right now with our (hopefully soon-to-be) resident nesting birds – not bluebirds in our case, but violet-green swallows. (The story & photos are on my site if you’re interested.)

  11. Lee says:

    Thanks so much for all the comments! Jenni, sorry you were not able to send the photos. I will have to check into that. Thanks for the link!