Digital SLR Photography

How to photograph garden birds this winter

By Caroline Schmidt. Posted

The beauty of winter wildlife is while you can travel abroad or the more remote areas of our nation for impressive wildlife spectacles and stunning backdrops, you can also let the wildlife come to you. With a scarcity of food, garden birds are plentiful as are urban wildlife like foxes. For birds, in particular, you can control the set-up. Try placing bait such as seeds, nuts or mealworm (depending on the species) on an attractive perch like a frost-covered thistle, lichen-covered branch or holly, in a north-facing area in front of a clutter-free background to give yourself the best light in the morning and the evening. If your options are limited, however, choose a location for the best morning light as it will be shortly after dawn that birds are at their most active.


Position yourself in a pop-up hide, or from within a window or shed, using a telephoto focal length in the region of 200-400mm, to pre-focus on the perch while you wait for your quarry. Try increasing your ISO rating to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the subject, but also use a tripod to remove any risk of camera movement.

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Birds from the finch family are fantastic winter subjects due their bright plumage – the bullfinch and chaffinch both display bright red breasts. The most iconic of winter birds, the robin, can also be easily baited but it’s not just what bait you use but how you bait it that affects what type of bird you attract. A hanging baited perch, for instance, is likely to draw in robins and a range of finches and tits; a low perch will attract blackbirds, chaffinches and dunnocks. Peanuts are almost universally popular, but nyjer seeds will attract finches and goldfinches while fat balls and suet blocks should lure blue, great and coal tits as well as starlings. Do your research if there are certain types of birds that frequent your garden to see what will entice them to stay and return more frequently.

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