Home Bodies

Some of the best opportunities to photograph the natural world can occur right in our own backyards

05-01-2011 // Mark Wexler

SOME OF THE BEST opportunities to photograph the natural world can occur right in our own backyards. That’s a lesson many National Wildlife Federation members already have learned. Of the thousands of neighborhood wildlife images you’ve shared with us in recent years, here are some of our favorites.

Indigo bunting

Indigo Bunting

Brian Tang, Indiana

Driving in springtime near his home in West Chicago, Indiana, NWF member Brian Tang noticed several male Indigo buntings apparently fighting over some shrubs. He pulled his car over and spent the next two hours photographing the birds from close range. “This male was fluffing his feathers to defend his breeding territory,” he says, “and a strong wind added to the effect.”

Great horned owl and saquaro cactus 

Great Horned Owl

Lyn Jewett, Arizona

On a summer day, this saguaro cactus in Lyn Jewett’s backyard in Mesa, Arizona, provided a perfect diving platform for a male great horned owl. Its target: a fountain in Jewett’s backyard, which has served as a water source for different families of owls since 2003. “They nest nearby and start coming into our yard in mid-June,” says Jewett, who photographed this owl two years ago. “The father flies in first, then the mother, and then their offspring join them as darkness sets in.”

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

Linda Gast, California

Linda Gast knows how to throw a party for hummingbirds. “We have eight hummingbird feeders in our yard, and we go through about 140 pounds of sugar every season keeping them filled.” Gast made this image of a male Anna’s hummingbird with his tongue sticking out last spring as it was feasting on some of her sugar water. Located just outside of Yosemite National Park in California, Gast’s property hosts hundreds of the tiny birds every year.

Water drops on passionflower tendrill


Dennis Frates, Oregon

This image of water drops clinging to a passionflower tendril was the result of two of Dennis Frates’ favorite pursuits: photography and gardening. Frates grew the exotic passionflower in a greenhouse on his property in Wilsonville, Oregon, then took it into his garden to create the photo. “I was only a few inches away from it,” he says. Frates used a telephoto lens and extension tubes, enabling him to blur the clematis flowers in the background.

Painted lady butterfly

Painted Lady

Amy Buxton, Missouri

Can a butterfly have a personality? “This painted lady sure seemed like it did,” says Amy Buxton, who photographed the insect on a New England aster in September in her backyard near St. Louis, Missouri. “It let me follow it closely for 20 minutes, but it was always watching me.” Buxton and her husband have filled their property with native plants that attract dozens of wildlife species.

Chickadee in vase feeder

Black-Capped Chickadee

Nestor Read, Québec

At a park near his home in Montreal, Québec, Nestor Read put some birdseed in a glass vase last winter and placed it in the snow. “Most birds tried three or four times to get to the seed before giving up,” says Nestor, who was standing nearby with his camera. “But it only took this black-capped chickadee a few seconds to figure out where the opening was.”

Doe looking in window 

White-Tailed Deer

Patricia D’Alessio, Connecticut

Patricia D’Alessio and Gregory Artura originally bought their large wooded property in Bridgewater, Connecticut, for privacy. “But now we feel like we have our own private game preserve,” says D’Alessio. Two winters ago, the couple set up a camera equipped with an automatic shutter that is triggered by movement to photograph the animals on their land. “We had little success and planned to give up on the whole process,” she adds. “Then this curious doe changed our minds.”

Iced covered bird feeder

Birds at Feeder

Mary Jo Taintor, Minnesota

Two years ago, a three-day March storm left a thick layer of ice over the entire community of Silver Bay, Minnesota. “We lost our power, the house was freezing, the roads were closed and wildlife had a tough time finding food,” says Mary Jo Taintor, who kept her bird feeders filled throughout the ordeal. As her photo shows, her feathered friends were determined to get to the seed.

California Quails

California Quail

Laure Wilson Neish, British Columbia

Driving back to her home in Penticton, British Columbia, after trying to photograph birds miles away, Laure Wilson Neish turned onto her street and immediately saw this covey of California quail on a neighbor’s fence. “I rolled down the window just in time to take this photo,” she says.

Gray squirel

Gray Squirrel

Joyce Walton, Virginia

This gray squirrel was busy raiding a bird feeder in Joyce Walton’s Earlysville, Virginia, yard when she walked outside with her camera. “The poor squirrel ran up a tree and stayed there for over an hour,” says Walton. “But it did sneak a peek a few times.”

Northern cardinal bathing

Northern Cardinal

Robert Strickland, Florida

Using a shed in his Beverly Hills, Florida, backyard as a photo blind, Robert Strickland focused his lens on his birdbath and waited for birds to arrive. “It was the dry season,” he says, “and this male northern cardinal got into the cool water and stayed there for quite a while.”

Paper wasp sipping from a bird bath

Paper Wasp

Howard Cheek, Texas

After seeing this paper wasp repeatedly go to a pool in his yard to drink, Howard Cheek set up his camera equipment nearby. “I’m always on the lookout for wildlife on our property to photograph,” says the Texas Hill Country resident. “It’s my favorite thing to do.”


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