Rick Hobbs Photography

Wildlife/Nature/Outdoor Photography

Photo Tips

Creating Your Own Opportunities at Home - Bluebirds

Kathy and I were driving down the road one day and noticed there were beautiful bluebirds in the area. I always wanted to get some good bluebird photographs but never had the chance. We did some research and decided to build four bluebird houses. We positioned the house opening the way they would prefer when the young were ready to leave the box, and wired each house onto a post I pounded into the ground. I clamped a perch to the post so it would hold the perch over the box to give the bluebirds a place to hopefully sit if I had the chance to create some images. So I created an opportunity to attract bluebirds to our home and then we waited and watched to see what happened.

Tip #1 do the research and work necessary to create your own opportunity.

Western Bluebird - Woodland Park, Colorado

The first three years other birds would use the houses or they sat empty. The bears tore one apart so we were down to three houses spread out about 100 feet apart across our back yard. Finally, to our delight I noticed after four years a pair of bluebirds were fighting over one of the houses with another pair of birds. It took a few days to resolve the issue but thankfully the bluebirds won the battle and moved in. The best part for me was they chose the box closest to our house and the easiest box for me to access if given the opportunity to create some images - what luck.

As the weeks past I kept an eye on them as they went about their daily routines. Finally I noticed the only one I was watching was the male, the female never came out of the box, and the male was bringing food back to the box on a regular basis. This was a great sign of success for them and the opportunity to get some photographs seemed like a possibility. I wanted to make sure I did not interrupt the feeding in any way so I waited several days then left a tripod in the area and stood around from time to time letting the male get used to my presence and realize I was not a threat.

Tip #2 be patient and acclimate your subject to your presence to improve your chances of success.

Western Bluebird - Woodland Park, Colorado

Finally it was picture day and I was extremely excited about the possibilities. I spent two hours standing there watching and photographing the male bluebird as he went about his feeding, preening and other bluebird activities. My planning and patience had paid off. Later that evening I download the images and started going through them. To my major disappointment, the bluebird was much smaller in the frame than I thought I saw when creating the images.

After thinking about it for a few minutes I realized that in my excitement I grabbed the wrong lens and was shooting with the 400mm and 1.4x instead of my 600mm and 1.4x so the results of that shoot were a complete bust and I would need to try again tomorrow using the correct lens choice.

Tip #3 - slow down and make sure you have the correct tool to do the job, in this case the correct lens.

Western Bluebird - Woodland Park, Colorado

The morning light was the best light for this setup and unfortunately the next day we had a rare heavy overcast, windy, morning so I would have to wait another day. That afternoon I heard some noise and at the same moment Timber, my 3 year old golden retriever, jumped up and went running to the door - my first thought was "bear"!

I ran to the door and sure enough there was a black bear starting to tear the bluebird house apart and trying to rip it off the post to eat the female and the young inside. I yelled Noooooo!!! Are you kidding me after waiting 4 years for this opportunity. I ran out the door and charged the bear yelling and clapping my hands to scare it off. He let go of the box and backed up about 10 feet. By now the box was hanging upside down and only had one small piece of wire keeping the bear from running off with it.

Tip #4 when you get the opportunity, take advantage of it on your first chance because you might not get a second.

Western Bluebird - Woodland Park, Colorado

I was going to head for the garage and grab some wire in an attempt to fix it. As soon as I started to leave the bear went back to the box and was pulling on it desperately trying to get his meal off the post. I could not let that happen so I charged the bear again this time not stopping until I made it to the bluebird house. He let go of the house just as I was about to slap him on the head - yes we were only 2 feet apart and he decided to let go and ran back about 20 feet. This time I chased the bear about 150 feet away from the house and he was headed for the top of the ridge.

Tip #5 even when your adrenaline is pumping - DON'T CHARGE A BEAR - unless you need too.

Western Bluebird doing a rouse, showing he is relaxed - Woodland Park, Colorado

At this point I ran and grabbed some wire, turned the bluebird house right side up again, and quickly wired it to the post. I quickly reattached the perch and the whole time the male bluebird was diving at me just like he was doing to the bear. I saw the bear tore off some of the wood on the outside of the box but thankfully he did not get the box open at all.

I backed away and watched for awhile. After 30 minutes the male bluebird flew into the house to check on his family. A few minutes later he came out for a short time and then he went back in the box again to check on things. About 30 minutes later I noticed he started feeding again, which was a good sign they probably survived their rough treatment. After watching for a little longer it appeared things were back to normal and I was successful at saving his family, at this point.

Tip #6 learn to read your subjects behavior, the more you understand your subject, the better your opportunities.

Western Bluebird doing a rouse and flapping his wings, showing he is relaxed - Woodland Park, Colorado

Now that the bear knew there was a meal in the box I was concerned he would come back at night and finish the job. My hope was the bear did not appreciate our encounter and would move on. That afternoon I decide to try and create some new images with the correct lens this time. Even though the lighting was wrong I thought it might be my only chance left if they did not make it through the night. As expected, I did not like the lighting when I reviewed the images so I decided to try again tomorrow if the box was still there.

Western Bluebird after doing a rouse, showing he is relaxed - Woodland Park, Colorado

The following morning, the bluebird box was still there and the male was feeding them, the light was perfect, and I was ready this time. I selected a location that would provide a nice clean background which was just dirt and scrub oak bushes about 30 feet behind my perch so I knew using my depth of field preview button that the background would just be a textureless color. As it turned out, there were some high thin clouds that provided soft filtered light so I was able to stand there for 5 hours creating the images I always hoped for while the male put on quite a show for me. It seemed like we had a bond and were thankful for each other, maybe it was just me, but that is how it felt.

Tip #7 whenever possible position yourself to take advantage of great lighting and clean backgrounds.

Western Bluebird with a grasshopper - Woodland Park, Colorado

During this time he brought back grasshoppers, worms, beetles, ants, moths, and a variety of other things. He did a rouse, a behavior showing he was relaxed, did his preening and everything else I could hope for during our time together.

Tip #8 always be ready to shoot so you are prepared for whatever happens if the opportunity arises.

Western Bluebird with a worm - Woodland Park, Colorado

As it turns out, I almost waited too long because three days later the young fledged and the family left the box. During the summer from time to time I would see the new family around our house so thankfully everyone survived the experience.

Tip #9 - always enjoy your time when working with wildlife or any subject you love to photograph.


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