Backyard Bird Photography: Mike Parr’s Lockdown Therapy

A blog by Mike Parr of American Bird Conservancy.

Common Grackle. Photo By Mike Parr.

I’ve learned a lot about bird photography from Owen over the past few years, but two things stand out and I’ve been able to use them to good effect while photographing birds in my backyard during the pandemic – which I consider to be part of my “lockdown therapy”. Firstly, getting at the same level as the bird is key to a good-looking image. Photos that look down on, or up at birds are seldom as good. Secondly, backgrounds are as important as the bird itself to create a pleasing image. Fortunately, your own backyard provides an opportunity to control these factors in ways that can be challenging in the field more generally. Here – below – are a few photos of common backyard birds I took this spring during lockdown that I enjoyed taking and which I think mostly check the boxes that Owen would recommend. 

House Finch and House Sparrow. Photos by Mike Parr.

The first secret to good backyard bird photography is having birds to photograph in the first place! In my case, this really meant stacking up the feeders – tube, hopper, suet, and also spreading seed on the ground. Of course, it is important to keep feeders cleaned regularly (every few months) and taking them down for a while and cleaning them thoroughly if there’s any evidence of eye or other diseases among the birds in your yard. It is also a good idea to keep them away from windows (30 feet or more ideally) and to keep your cat indoors if you have one. You can also treat your windows with decals or other markings to deter birds from colliding with them – American Bird Conservancy’s website has a lot of easy to apply suggestions.

Chipping Sparrow and White-breasted Nuthatch. Photos by Mike Parr.

Winter is a great time to feed birds and may offer opportunities to photograph birds in the snow which can allow you to capture some images for your 2021 holiday cards! There are a variety of ways to get close to birds in your yard, but some form of blind, whether that’s your car, or a commercially available blind, or a do it yourself sheet and camouflage, will allow you to have more fun by getting closer! Bird photography is both endlessly enjoyable and occasionally frustrating – but the backyard is a great place to both learn and have fun. I have recorded 89 species in or flying over my small Washington DC yard since the pandemic began – and wherever you are there are birds to see and photograph. Please consider joining American Bird Conservancy. For just $20 you can become a member of ABC and receive a copy of Owen’s beautiful book “Bringing Back the Birds”.  Good birding! 

Mike Parr of American Bird Conservancy