How I Turned My Backyard into a Photo Zone

A Photo Contest winner shares how he created a wildlife-friendly photo studio in his Florida backyard

03-01-2010 // Robert Strickland

Photographer Robert Strickland won first place in our 2008 Photo Contest's Backyard Habitats category, amateur division, with a charming image of a northern cardinal splashing in a birdbath. Here, the photographer and avid wildlife-watcher tells how he transformed a modest-sized yard into a haven for bird photography.

I set up a feeding and water station in the backyard next to my shed. It includes four feeders and a birdbath. I use a variety of seeds for the feeders.  Most birds favor the sunflower seeds, but a variety of seeds will draw in many different species. I also hang out a suet feeder as well. This allows me to take full advantage of the bird situation I have right in my own backyard.

Bathing cardinal by Robert Strickland

My backyard is not very large—approximately a tenth of an acre. I have some trees growing along the fence line, which the birds use for safety. I also have some flowering bushes and a Mexican sunflower, all of which the birds use for a staging area before they come in to grab a seed.  Some of the birds, such as the northern cardinal, stay on the feeder, eating constantly. Others, like the tufted titmouse, come in quickly, grab a seed and hightail it for the protection of the trees. Then are ground feeders who just hang around cleaning up the seeds that fall out of the feeders.

The birdbath is essential because birds need fresh water every day. In Citrus County, Florida, it is dry during the winter months, November through April, and the birds enjoy a drink as well as a bath. Some birds just come and have a cool refreshing drink, while other prefer to get in the bath and splash up a storm. The cardinals seem to want to bathe. They come to drink, splash a little and get right in and let their feathers down, soaking up the fresh water. The tufted titmice will come in and splash for all they’re worth. When they’re done, they look like drowned rats.

I position the feeders and birdbath so there is a good light, an attractive background and a perfect distance from my shed. My storage shed becomes my blind so that the birds and other wildlife are not alarmed when they come to feed or bathe. Inside the shed, I set up my camera equipment, then sit waiting patiently for birds to come in. At this point, patience is a virtue.

The feeding/watering station and the use of the shed as a blind work very well to allow me the opportunity to capture a variety of backyard birds. It is simple: The birds come for the food and water and I capture them with my camera.

This is where I captured the bathing cardinal that won first prize in the National Wildlife Photo Contest in the Backyard Habitats category, amateur division. That day, the northern cardinal came to the birdbath to drink and bathe. After a small drink, the cardinal jumped in to take a bath, splashing water everywhere. Suddenly he just stopped and let all his feathers fall, did not move and just soaked up the water, letting his down feathers collect water.

Setting up a feeding/watering station, providing plants, bushes and trees and using my shed as a blind allowed me the opportunity to capture a prize-winning photograph.

Robert Strickland is a self-taught photographer who has been observing and photographing wildlife—particularly birds—for more than 25 years. He lives in Beverly Hills, Florida.


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