Category Archives: Orioles

Photographing Baltimore Orioles-The Difference Between Nesting and Roosting

When the Wind Blows, the Cradle Will Rock

At least, the Baltimore Orioles’ nesting cradles will rock.

Photo of Male Baltimore Oriole
Male Baltimore Oriole
ISO400; f/9; 1/250 Second

Nest Building

Watching the Spring courtship and nesting rituals of birds is always invigorating. One of the most conspicuous performances is staged by the blazing yellow and orange Baltimore Orioles. The males display their finery and sing their hearts out in the usual way and pretty soon the females are busy weaving nests made of grass, ferns, leaves, hair, and twine, with feathers for the inner lining. She stitches these building materials together in tangles and knots, using the longest fibers to hang the nest from the outer end of a concealed tree branch. These sock-like hanging nests sway with the wind, but are only really noticeable in the Fall after the tree leaves have dropped. (NOTE:  Each Spring I spread a few dozen short pieces of yarn about the yard, in the basement window wells and near the foot paths, hoping the birds will incorporate them into their nests.  It disappears…. but I’ve never seen these fibers carried by any bird nor incorporated into a nest.)

The Disney Version

Last winter, we spied an Eastern Screech Owl in the owl house we erected 3 years earlier.  How exciting, we thought. Perhaps he is exploring nesting opportunities, hoping to snatch a space to house a future family. After 3 weeks, the owl was gone and we haven’t seen him since.

Time to change my mental model – the wildly inaccurate Disney version of birds sleeping with their families in the nests they find or build.

Baltimore Oriole
Female or Juvenile Baltimore Oriole
ISO400; f/9; 1/250 Second

Nesting is Different than Roosting

Nests are not homes for birds nor are they a place to rest or sleep. Birds who build nests build them to be temporary. They are often a sagging, parasite filled poopy mess after raising one or more broods.

Roosting simply means: “A place where winged animals, especially birds or bats, rest or sleep. 2. A place for temporary rest or sleep”.  Birds use nests seasonally as a place to incubate their eggs and to hide, protect and nurture their young. Once the fledgings have flown the nest, the parents typically abandon them too.

Roosting Places

At night, most birds need a safe place away from roaming nocturnal predators. Some bird species crowd together communally for protection and warmth, while others sleep in secret isolation in some hidey hole, cliff, cavity, porch, barn, bucket, storage container, marshy lowland or high tree top.

Birds who stick around during the day must find places to settle down out of harm’s way for the night. Every time we add to a pile of dense vegetative debris, plant an evergreen, or erect a protective shelter, we are setting up safe places for bird roosting. After all, unlike nesting, sleeping is an essential, nightly, all season behavior.

To attract tired birds, roosting box designs should have the following characteristics:

  • Heat conservation (especially in the winter)
  • Plenty of room and perching spaces within to accommodate more than one bird
  • Cleanable design, with space on the bottom for wood chips
  • Multiple exits to escape predators
  • Entrance/exit holes that are designed to accommodate and protect certain sized birds (so the big and aggressive birds don’t hog all the good spots).

Not too much to ask. We’ve started searching on-line for roosting boxes, especially for the year round birds.

NOTE: This Spring the owl house is empty. The Eastern Screech Owl we observed last winter obviously a found better place to nest….. away from the prying eye of the camera.

Photographing An Orchard Oriole – Dealing with Impatience and Glare Control

Photographing An Orchard Oriole

It was only 8:30 a.m., a couple days before summer solstice, when I spotted my first adult male Orchard Oriole. The male Orchard Oriole looks very different from the female with his velvety black head and glossy russet colored breast and lower back. True to their name, this species are found in semi-open spaces like orchards (and rarely at feeders like Baltimore Orioles). Most E-bird maps classify Orchard Orioles as uncommon breeders in Michigan.

(Note: I saw and photographed a female or fledgling Orchard Oriole last year.)

Photo of Orchard Oriole
Male Orchard Oriole
ISO1600; f/9; 1/1000 Second

Glare Control

On this morning, sunrise was 6:10 am, at which time we were at another location. That sublime early morning light that adorns birds with a soft golden glow had long past.

Even though the sun was not that high in the sky, I had a terrible time (while in the car) dealing with distracting glare coming from the many reflective maple leaves. (NOTE: Sadly, I can not coax a bird to move into a shaded environment. I can better control these uneven bits of radiance when photographing people. The glare caused by bald heads and eye-glasses are a piece of cake to remedy because you can tell people how to pose, where to stand and, if necessary, move the camera.)


For this shoot, it would have helped if I had taken off my polarized sunglasses. If I had, I would have been able to see the brassiness of the maple leaves …so blatant that it competed with my subject for viewer attention.

Harsh light creates strong contrasts. To cut the glare, photographers in more manageable outdoor environments use a circular polarizing filter on their lenses. To use circular polarizing filters optimally, you must position your camera correctly… (preferably 90 degrees to the bird) and rotate the filter until you block certain wavelengths of light. (NOTE: Filters cut down available light considerably – from 1-2 stops.)

Circular Polarizers aren’t practical for long telephoto lens wildlife photography – and especially for birds as restless and unpredictable as this Orchard Oriole. Consequently, no filter threads are provided on the ends of most monster 500mm lenses. Instead a drop-in gel filter holder is provided near the base of the lens .

Photo of Orchard Oriole
Male Orchard Oriole
Much less Leaf Glare; but Branches are Distracting.
ISO1250; f/9; 1/1250 Second

Impatience Takes Over

Tracking a bird with your eyes is easy…..even within the limitations of a car.  Not so easy is tracking a lively bird with a cumbersome camera and 500mm lens while in a car.

This male Orchard Oriole was flying low, bopping between the glare filled Maple leaves on the north side of the road and a Cyprus tree on the south. The camera was resting on the door window pointing toward the Maple tree. I was hoping that the bird would cross the road and perch in front of the camera. He eventually did, but not right away. Impatience got the best of me.

For some reason, I decided that to successfully photograph this bird, I needed to reposition the camera to face the opposite direction. My husband was in the driver’s seat, making it impossible to secure the lens on that door window. With the oriole watching me, I opened my car door, threw a towel on the roof of the car, lugged my camera out and rested it on the towel, and then re-situated the unwieldy lens to point in the direction of the bird. (Whew!)

Before I could get off a shot, the Orchard Oriole dashed across the road again —to the very perch on which the lens was trained before I hauled it out of the car. He didn’t stay there long. With a big sigh, I got back in the car.

Actions that rise from frustration and exasperation are neither practical nor productive in bird photography. For unexpected bird sightings, patience is key.

I stayed in the car, rested the camera on the car door window ledge, watched, waited, and tried to calm down. Eventually the Oriole did return to the maple tree allowing me to successfully burst away.

Birds Don’t Wait for the Photographer

Turning the car around to face the opposite direction would have created too much of a disturbance. Getting out of the car to set up the tripod would also have chased the bird off. I’ve tried both of these strategies often enough- and no bird has ever waited for me to get situated. I can be quick and efficient.. but all that movement is neither quiet nor covert, especially when it happens at the spur of the moment. It is simply too much human activity for a bird to endure.


Patience is the mother of all virtue in bird photography. It is the key to help you let go of your expectations and drop those feelings of frustration. Most important of all, patience helps you rise above the feelings of urgency and optimally use your experience, enthusiasm and talent. Chances are you won’t miss out on anything.

Photo of Immature Orchard Oriole

Photographing a Juvenile Orchard Oriole

Finally….an Orchard Oriole

I’ve been looking for an Orchard Oriole to photograph for over 2 years. The beautiful Baltimore Orioles are quite a common sight in southwest Michigan. They are bold and gregarious, especially near a feeder filled with grape jelly. But the Orchard Orioles are less numerous, and more cautious.

Photo of Immature Orchard Oriole
Immature Orchard Oriole, hiding in the bush.
ISO1000; f/7.1; 1/1000 Second

Auditory ID

Last Spring, one of my birding friends told me that he had heard the Orchard Oriole’s song near an old apple orchard in a corner of the Allegan Forest. This man is a birdsong auditory bloodhound, so I made it a point to spend some time in this space. I saw and heard lots of other insectivorous bird species nesting there- Eastern Meadowlarks, White Crowned Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds, Robins, Chickadees, Bobolinks, and many many more, but no Orchard Orioles.

Finally, this juvenile Orchard Oriole made an appearance, flying back and forth, low and wobbly between a couple of evergreens. Once perched, he tucked himself within the branches, looked around and called anxiously for the adults. I changed the focus setting on my camera to single point spot auto focus, pointed my lens toward the branch on which the bird perched and tried to maneuver that spot in the viewfinder (a tiny square box on Canon cameras) on the bird’s head.

Advantages of Spot Focusing

When there is lots of foreground and/or background clutter, similar to the evergreen branches in the photo above, the telephoto lens will search forwards and back, trying to lock focus. Spot focusing is designed for those times when the camera’s auto focus point needs to be tiny and precisely placed on the spot that you want focused correctly.

When you first engage spot focus, the “spot” is located in the very center of the viewfinder. The best part about spot focusing is the ability to continually move that focus point around in the frame. Most advanced cameras have a four-way selector dial (in the back of the camera) with which to move the spot autofocus point exactly where you want it.

Positioning this focus point does take time, so spot focus works best when the subject is not on the move.

To read more about the difference between spot focus and spot metering, visit this post

To read more about auditory bird ID, visit this post.

Photo of Male Cardinal Feeding Fledging

Photographing Birds That Have Flown the Nest – Part 1

So Many Fledglings To Photograph

It all progresses pretty fast in the bird world (and ours)  … mating, nesting, (2 or 3 times) – and then migration comes around again.

This time of year, the parents are looking haggard and spent…. but they keep at it, even feeding the fledglings who are as big as they are. (Is it possible that these birds are doing double duty….. feeding the begging fledgings while at the same time gathering food for the nestlings?)

Photo of Fledging Red Bellied Woodpecker
Fledging Red Bellied Woodpecker
Nestled near a Tree Trunk, Looking for a Parent.
ISO4000; f/5.6; 1/400 Second
Photo of Immature Cardinal
Immature Cardinal- Black Beak Instead of Red.
ISO1600; f/4; 1/640 Second

Flown the Nest

A fledgling is a young bird who has grown enough to acquire its initial flight feathers and has flown out of the nest. They look babyish and are unsure in flight. Inexperience and immature feathers make them especially awkward when taking off and landing.

There are lots of fledglings of many different species to photograph in our yard. Young birds fledge as soon as 7-11 days after hatching. These curious young birds have not yet learned to feed themselves. They look so new, so vulnerable as they ignore the camera (and potential predators) and follow their parents around begging for food. It takes them a couple weeks before they can fly confidently and acquire food without parental help.

Photo of Two Fledging Baltimore Orioles
A line of Two Fledgling Baltimore Orioles,
Waiting to be Fed by Male Parent.
ISO1600; f/4; 1/640 Second
Photo of Male Cardinal Feeding Fledging
Male Cardinal Feeding his Fledging.
ISO2000; f/4; 1/640 Second

The light is not optimal in my heavily shaded yard, but I will continue photographing the newbies as they struggle to become independent.

Until next week…….

Photo of Baltimore Oriole

Photographing Baltimore Orioles – and Basics for All Photographers

Summertime Photography

It’s summer time, and the Baltimore Orioles abound in their splendor.

Summer is also the time when we are invited to a lot of outdoor weddings. Lots of splendor to ponder there as well… the couple, the gowns, the flowers, the guests. My mind drifts to making observations about the wedding photographers who are engaged in a very different sort of photography than the craft I practice.

Photo of Male Baltimore Oriole
Male Baltimore Oriole Singing His Heart Out.
ISO 500; f/4.5; 1/640 Second

Basics for All Photographers

But is wedding photography so very different than bird photography?  I look over the photographer’s camera and her moves, looking for evidence of skill, efficiency, art, and respect. I can’t help but conclude that all photographers must share the same basic principles to be effective and productive.

At the Low End

On the wide spectrum that includes the best and worst of photographers, it’s easy to spot the rookies…or the ones who just don’t care. These are the people who rank on the low end of the effectiveness meter. Somehow, whether due to ignorance or arrogance, they do not understand what it takes to be successful and are often delusional about what is expected in a situation fraught with uncertainties and uncontrollable events.

Some specific observations:

  • They think showing up accomplishes 95% of what they are there to do.
  • They plan to get in and get out as they are squeezing this shoot in on their way to somewhere else.
  • No time is set aside to check the weather, understand the layout of the location, study the lighting challenges and opportunities, evaluate the backgrounds, and mentally setup the shots for optimal results.
  • Respect for their subjects is seriously lacking as is an understanding of group dynamics.
  • They do not know how best to get their subjects posed attractively.
  • They are not in the right place at the right time to capture those special moments.
  • They arrive unprepared. Worse, they do not anticipate complications nor do they know how to troubleshoot.
  • They bring only themselves, one all purpose camera and lens, one compact disk, and one blinding flash affixed to the top of the camera and aimed directly at their subjects.
  • They do not dress appropriately nor do they try to be unobtrusive to the events around them.
  • They do not search out opportunities that have the potential for candid and stunning photographs.
  • They put no effort into post processing, nor do they screen the photos to eliminate those that are out of focus, poorly framed, uninteresting, and/or redundant.
Photo of Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
ISO 800; f/4.5/ 1/800 Second

Photographers’ Skill Set

The skill set of a good photographer consists of a hard earned complement of components – all working together with the best equipment that the photographer can afford. Photographers at the top of their game are diligent in observing and respecting their subjects as they struggle to achieve the milestones of their lives. They understand that things do not automatically fall into place and when something unexpected and wonderful happens, they react quickly and professionally.

Beautiful photos are the result.


Press this link to read about Control as an Illusion.

Press this link to read more about photographing Baltimore Orioles.

Male Baltimore Oriole

Photographing Baltimore Orioles and Outdoor Studio Setups

Photographing Baltimore Orioles In Your Back Yard

Baltimore Orioles are one of my favorite birds. They are brilliantly colorful, vivacious birds that can be lured to almost any feeder with grape jelly, oranges and suet. Orioles appear quite shy while foraging for insects in wooded areas, but can be loud, competitive and greedily protective at the feeders.

Orioles were the perfect subjects to photograph in my outdoor studio setup.

Perches On Which Birds Pose for the Camera

The photos below of baltimore orioles were taken in my yard after I took a few moments to set up a couple of strategically placed perches in a location that would capture the best light and background. I also set up my blind.

The feeder is the main attraction for the birds, but it is also an unsightly distraction in photographs. Consequently, I set up the perches so the feeders would not be in the shot. The goal was to get the birds to use those perches while waiting for their turn at the feeder, thus creating the opportunity for a great photo.

Photo of Male Baltimore Oriole
Male Baltimore Oriole Loudly Complaining at Competing Males
ISO 3200; f6.3; 1/2000 Second

What are the Issues?

Setting up an outdoor nature studio allows you to not only attract birds, but also control the light, background scenery and other photographic elements. Photographers can set up a single, strategically placed perch (like I did) or elaborately design all aspects of the scene. Very convenient, especially if you do this at home.

But there are birders, photographers and other nature lovers out there who object to and are offended by outdoor studio setups. Below I’ve tried to list the arguments for both sides…the people who practice this type of photography, regularly and elaborately, and those who are opposed to any setups, call-ins or baiting practices, anytime, anywhere.

Arguments Against Outdoor Studio Setups

  • Outdoor studio setups are too intrusive. They create unnatural feeding spots that spoil the habitat and stress the wildlife. These feeding stations not only makes birds dependent on man’s handouts, but also make them more vulnerable to predators.
  • The use of audio calls, bait, and perching/background props disrupt natural bird behaviors, especially during migratory and nesting periods.
  • Controlled studio setups take away from the challenge, excitement and the serendipity of wild bird photography. The photographs produced in these environments do not look authentic or realistic. The practice is deceiving to viewers and referred to as BOAS (Birds on a Stick) photography.
  • Multiple bird feeders and other props that are used to draw in birds cause the spread of disease among birds (ex.mycoplasmal conjunctivitis).
  • Intrusive photographers do not respect birds or the fragility of their ecosystem. They are only concerned with getting the shot.

Arguments In Favor of Outdoor Studio Setups

  • Outdoor studio setups allow the photographer to artistically and technically control many variables in the composition, including the direction of the birds’ approach and the amount and path of the light. Photographers can also incorporate natural looking branches and flowers to get the perfect outdoor nature photo.
  • Most viewers of the photos will not be able to tell that the scene is staged. These outdoor studio setups are designed to make the photos look natural, artistic, and ascetically pleasing.
  • Birds are already acclimated to humans in their environment, so there is no real interference in the birds’ activities. Outdoor studio setups are not any more intrusive than bird watchers walking in the woods. They are certainly less intrusive than radio collars and banding of birds.
  • Patience, understanding, keeping a respectful distance, and an understanding of the habits and nature of birds are essential components to successful outdoor studio setups.
  • Businesses that advertise outdoor studio setups are on private property and cater to photographers by providing easy access to a wide variety of bird activities in an uncluttered and aesthetically pleasing, natural looking environment.

Photography Rules and Ethics

There are recognized and accepted guidelines and rules that first and foremost protect wildlife and the environment, but also attempt to address the concerns of both sides of this debate. Nature lovers and photographers should be familiar with the established ethical field practices outlined by the North American Nature Photography Association. See this link for more information.

In addition to the best field practices, there are also laws and rules (established by U.S.National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges) that all nature lovers and photographers should know and follow. These include certain permit requirements and prohibitions against harassing wildlife. Practices such as baiting, calling in, and setting up blinds in certain public areas are forbidden. There are also rules about going off the trails and “altering, moving, cutting, or defacing” certain public lands in the U.S. national parks and wildlife refuges.

Photo of Female Baltimore Oriole
Female Baltimore Oriole
ISO 800; f/2.8; 1/1000 Second
Photo of Male Baltimore Oriole
Always Alert and Ready to Fly Off In An Instant, this Male Baltimore
Oriole Keeps a Sharp Eye on His Competitors.
ISO 5000; f/6.3; 1/3200 Second

My Take

I treasure my time in the wild outdoors and make a point of leaving behind only my footprints. I also enjoy beautifully framed, natural looking bird photographs with minimal clutter and pleasing backgrounds. I don’t see anything wrong with setting up a scene in my back yard or on public land where it is allowable to add more appeal to the nature photo. I don’t believe I compromise the safety of the birds nor do I think these practices interfere with their life cycles or their habitat.

Wild Bird Survival for the Long Term

Finally, there are many larger, more critical issues that impact bird survival. These include problems like the steady decline in bird populations (of common and rare birds) due to habitat loss, poison, lack of food, global warming, artificial light, and wind turbines. The long term consequences of these human practices require our attention because they are much more likely to impact the survival of future generations of wild birds.