After a winter of following a pretty static regimen of filling feeders – mostly seed and suet feeders north of the Sunbelt – the new spring reminds us to stay versatile as the birds that visit your yard begin to change with some species leaving for more northern climes, and others arriving from the south. This early changing of the guard is just the beginning of what will be a growing need to change of elements at your feeding station. Soon, orioles and hummingbirds will begin arriving, along with grosbeaks and other songbirds – it’s time to prepare for these exciting species and others.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has expanded their authoritative website that previously described the Birds of North America in authoritative species profiles that we have all relied on for basic and advanced information, songs, and photographs of specific species. Now, the similarly structured new Birds of the World website has added a wealth of information about all 10,500-plus birds of the world on one website!
Experiencing wildness is particularly important for physical and mental health, according to a study published recently in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities by the University of Washington (UW). Past research has found health and wellness benefits of nature for humans, but this is the first study to show that wildness in urban areas is profoundly important for human well-being. But it’s unusual to find places in a city that are relatively wild – even though our evolutionary history, and the UW study suggests we need interactions with wild nature to thrive.
Just in case you’ve put it off until the last week, it’s crunch time to submit your potential contest-winning bird photos by Monday to the Audubon Photography Awards. Judges will award prizes in six categories, including the Grand, Professional, Amateur, Youth, Plants for Birds, and the Fisher categories during their 11th annual photo competition. Be sure to send you best images by Monday April 6th for the chance to win up to $5,000!
Tuesday, thousands and thousands of geese invaded, surrounded, and flew low above my Dakota house spreading goose music across the land the whole day and into the night. It’s a time I await and hope lasts as long as possible each spring as these dynamic birds migrate across the continent, from Gulf Coast marshes to Arctic tundra ponds. But it’s here in the center of the Central Flyway the geese stop to rest, recharge, feed, gear up for nesting, and wait for the Arctic to thaw.
Celestron TrailSeeker ED 8x42 Binoculars provide birders with a wealth of features rarely found at this price level, including Extra-low Dispersion (ED) objective lenses that provide superior views virtually free of chromatic aberration with increased resolution and contrast. Fully multi-coated lenses provide increased light transmission, plus there are phase coatings and dielectric coatings on the BaK-4 prisms for more vivid true to life colors. These TrailSeeker ED Binoculars are waterproof and nitrogen-purged to perform in adverse weather conditions – and it’s all packed into a light-weight 24 ounce package.
Attract orioles successfully this spring and summer by offering cut oranges and jelly under one roof of the Duncraft Oriole Delight Feeder. Wide built-in perches along all four sides of the feeder get orioles within easy reach of the sweet fruit and jelly. This premium oriole feeder is made from durable orange recycled plastic and built for years of use, the clear plastic roof shelters the fruit, jelly, and birds from rain. Duncraft Oriole Delight Feeder measures 11 x 8 x 7 inches tall and comes with a cable hanger and a removable 5 ounce durable clear-plastic jelly dish.
Featuring the patented Top-Fill feature with a stunning new color scheme and glass construction, the Perky-Pet Prohibition Top-Fill Glass Hummingbird Feeder is a favorite of hummingbirds and birders alike. This attractive feeder holds up to 32 ounces of nectar and its wide-mouth opening and Top-Fill design ensures easy filling with no mess – and easy cleaning. The Prohibition Feeder’s lifelike flower-shaped feeding ports are brightly colored, soft, and flexible and the flowers’ long stem design acts as a bee guard to keep bugs out. Be prepared, hummingbirds will be on their way soon!
Last week, a beautiful male Garganey, an Old World duck species was photographed at Sambro Marsh in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and proved to be only the Fifth Provincial Record. Another Old World species, a Ruff, was documented from Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. Three Neotropical Cormorants were found near Columbus, Ohio; and two California Gulls were sighted south of St. Paul, Minnesota, one in Dakota County, and one in Scott County.

If I was going to start over again, buy all new photo equipment, what’s the basic equation for bird photography? I’m a pretty practical guy, a pretty thrifty person; I’m aware of all the options having used a variety of equipment in the field, and I’m aware of all the new products available as they are introduced. I’m not a professional photographer; but I’m a very enthusiastic bird photographer who searches for photo opportunities daily when the right sunlight conditions prevail – and I manage some nice photos of a broad variety of avian subjects.

Today’s digital cameras provide a variety of remarkable features that combine to help you take high-resolution bird photographs like this drake Northern Pintail.

So what camera and lens combination would I buy if I was going to start over with a rather conservative budget in mind?

It’s relatively easy to meet a happy medium, where you get an excellent camera, a quality telephoto lens, or a fine zoom lens while getting the most out of your investment. Photo equipment really is an investment – an important investment. If you’re truly interested in bird photography, it’s frankly worth taking out a loan, or dedicating a new credit card for essential photo equipment only. As long as you make sure your purchase total is one that you can easily make an appropriate monthly payment on over time while using the equipment. [Now excuse me while I take my new card to the camera store (ha-ha).]

A great camera and lens combination will stop the action of a displaying Burrowing Owl, although it’s up to the photographer to get into position, plan the composition that includes a narrow field of view, take the photo at just the right time, and share the fruit of your efforts with others.

Photo equipment can also be considered an investment in that you can always sell it, not unlike a car. And because there is a high resale market, you can also feel comfortable buying lightly used equipment to cut some corners financially, especially if you know the person selling their personal equipment. I’ve found that photographers treat their equipment with the highest level of care, so if money is tight, consider taking a look at some slightly used equipment.

As camera models have improved, which tends to happen about every three years, I sell my lightly used camera to a selected friend, someone who I know will benefit from my camera (my great friends Emery, Kenny, and William for instance), and they have delighted in the upgrade to their equipment as well as the exceptional bargain I offer them. Getting some payback for my slightly used equipment gives me a basis to buy the newest model – kind of like trading in a used car to buy a new one.

What equipment would I buy? I’m very dedicated to Canon photo equipment. For decades they have been ahead of all other brands as new innovations have become standard parts of our cameras and lenses. They also provide a variety of top quality cameras and lenses at relatively affordable prices. That said, shop around.

When shopping for a camera body, all camera bodies priced above $400 will have the basics – autofocus, continuous shooting, advanced light metering, and much more. Therefore, for me it all comes down to a balancing act between price and quality. Quality photographs are based on resolution (detail), which is measured in megapixels (megs). The standard camera resolution these days is probably about 20 megs. [Keep in mind, my first digital camera bragged 6 megs, and that resolution quality has been increased by 6 megs about every three years as new models were introduced.]

Using Canon camera models as an example, today’s cameras vary from the new EOS Rebel 8i (24 megs) priced at $750 and the EOS 77D (24 megs) priced at $550, to the EOS 5DS (50 megs) priced at $3,500 – way above many birder’s budget; definitely above mine. Tip: Buy the camera body only – avoid “kits” that add a pricey wide-angle lens.

Balancing quality and price, my personal pick is the Canon EOS 90D with a 32 meg sensor for high-quality resolution digital photographs, priced at $1,100. To review the full Canon line of cameras, see

Photographing small songbirds is always a challenge, but a quality camera and lens will help to make spring migration a productive time for any bird photographers.


Most birders who are enthusiastic photographers opt for a 400mm f5.6 telephoto lens, or a more versatile 100-to-400mm zoom lens. A higher percentage of photographers opt for the zoom lens, which they can use for other photography options ranging from landscape to portrait photography. I usually find myself using my zoom lens for photographing large mammals and reptiles, along with landscapes and documentary images, but I use my 400mm telephoto exclusively for bird photography. I rarely find the need for the zoom option while focusing on birds, so the telephoto serves me best for birds.

Now those are my personal preferences, but to round out the field a bit, I can assure you that some of the best bird photographers in the world use a form of this equipment. Also, among the crowds of photographers I see at birding hotspots from Southern California to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, from the Everglades of Florida to the shores of Lake Erie and the mountains of Glacier National Park on the Canadian border – most bird photographers use a similar camera and lens combination. It’s versatile with the zoom, and it provides high-quality photos under good field conditions, and doesn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money.

You can buy a larger lens, but anything larger than a 400mm f5.6 realistically requires using a very stable tripod. For me, and I think most other birders, adding a tripod to camera equipment makes it a whole different animal – awkward to handle and carry, heavier if it’s a good tripod, unwieldy, and no fun. Some people don’t seem to mind it, or they put up with using a tripod. Most of us prefer the simple option of being able to swing this way and that as a bird flies by, or as passing flocks of birds require quick reflexes and the freedom to point and shoot with a quality camera-lens combination. You can easily carry such a camera combo while hiking along a birding trail or fit it into almost any backpack too.

Again, judging from what I see across the country, most birders who photograph birds opt for a Canon EF 400mm f5.6 telephoto lens, or a more versatile 100-to-400mm zoom lens. These are my preferences too. The telephoto will cost about $1,250; the zoom closer to $1,700, but that includes the excellent added feature of image stabilization (IS). If that price is steep, a good option is to look for a slightly used lens; and whether buying new or used, shop around a bit to get the best price. For reference, see the 400mm f5.6 telephoto lens at and while you’re on the Canon website, check out the 100-to-400mm zoom lens options too.

Getting close to birds of prey isn’t easy, so when a young Bald Eagle turns your way, be sure your camera’s autofocus, light meter, shutter speed, and continuous shooting options in sync with a fine telephoto or zoom lens are ready and able to document memorable photo opportunities – with a little luck in the equation too.

Personal Investment

Revisiting the idea of buying photo equipment as an investment, let me share that my life would be particularly shallow without my passion for taking photographs of birds. If you have an interest, you should see where bird photography takes you – personally, mentally, and possibly, professionally. As I noted earlier, I’m not a pro, but I’ve never met a perspective employer who wasn’t impressed with my website photos ( or photo-essays I’ve published in magazines, books, and online. Rather than relying solely on my writing, I provide a level of photo-journalism that provides an attractive package to editors and publishers. Similarly, my photographs augment my work as a field biologist; and on a personal level, associates, family, and friends always appreciate my habit of attaching a wildlife photo my emails and some texts.

I’m glad I don’t need to buy new equipment this week, but I am interested in upgrading my camera soon. As for my lenses, I really wouldn’t trade ‘em if I could. Even so, I hope this has been a helpful discussion for anyone interested in bird photography, whether you’re ready to get started, thinking of updating or upgrading, or considering a new addition to your existing photo gear. Give your camera and lens combo a good workout this spring as new photo subjects arrive each week! Enjoy your bird photography opportunities, and Good Luck!

Article and photos by Paul Konrad

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