Wildlife photography doesn’t necessarily entail braving wilderness in search of elusive species inhabiting remote locations. A carefully landscaped yard can supply an impressive variety of animal life to observe and photograph. In this article, we go through five tips for turning your backyard into a red carpet for local wildlife.
Know your Neighbors
Research, research, research. Find out what wildlife lives in your area. Visit a local nature preserve and/or Audubon Society and talk to the staff. Join a tour led by a knowledgeable guide and ask questions about what species frequent your area. Countless books and websites are dedicated to exactly this subject. You are off to a good start here. Field guides are a great resource for general information and species identification. Refine your focus to more local guides. Study the behavior and life cycles of the animals you are interested in attracting. The more you know about your desired subjects, the easier it will be to create an environment that they will want to visit.
Landscape for Photography
Think of your yard as a big, natural-light studio with multiple sets. Where do you plan on shooting from? Will you scare away your subjects? Would a photo blind help? How else can you improve shooting conditions? Is the light too harsh? Consider adding some trees or shrubs to diffuse light or produce shade. Take a few test photographs and troubleshoot the technical limitations of your yard and what can be done to improve conditions. If your goal is not only to attract wildlife, but also to create compelling photographs, it is imperative to keep this in mind as we move through each of the following steps.
Feed your Talent
Like most people, the easiest way to befriend wildlife is through the stomach. Native flowering plants will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Nut and fruit-bearing plants appeal to a variety of birds and mammals.
Tossing out a handful or two of shelled peanuts (raw, unsalted) is an easy way to make friends with jays, crows, and squirrels. Shelled peanuts are a favorite of woodpeckers, titmice, and chickadees. Sunflower seeds, especially black-oil, prove irresistible to cardinals, finches, blackbirds, and countless other species. Thistle is preferred by goldfinches, redpoll, chickadees, and doves. Whole kernel and cracked corn attract a wide range of birds—but also invites squirrels, raccoons, opossums, skunks, and rabbits. Live and dried mealworms are a delicacy for bluebirds, buntings, flycatchers, wrens, and others. During winter, suet is a great way to attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees. Taking photographs of birds at bird feeders can get a bit boring—focus instead on capturing your visitors as they approach and leave the feeder in the surrounding brush and trees.
Note: It is always a good idea to consult with your local Audubon chapter to make sure feeding local bird populations is safe and ethical.
Hydration is Key
Wildlife photographers know that if you find water, you will find life. Turning your backyard into a watering hole is another great way to attract wildlife of all sizes and potentially capture interesting behaviors. Birdbaths are the simplest way to start. Make sure to have at least part of the bath shallow for smaller birds. Adding gravel or smooth, river stones is a good way to vary the depth, providing your visitors with a tailored experience. Location is key. Position your birdbath low to the ground with cover nearby. Adding a pump keeps the water from freezing when the temperature drops, deters mosquitos from laying eggs, and catches the attention of birds.
More committed landscapers might look into creating an artificial pond or lake. This can get rather tricky and expensive depending on the size and complexity of your build. It is best to bring a professional onboard for large-scale projects. Smaller projects are manageable with a little planning. Make sure you have a quality liner, pump, and filter. Landscaping around your pond to provide cover for your visitors will add to its appeal. This also provides a more natural setting for your images.
Give them Shelter
This may sound like blasphemy to some but GET RID OF YOUR LAWN! Native plants are exponentially more ecologically sound than lawns. Fertilizers, pesticides, and the gallons upon gallons of water necessary to maintain ornamental grass are all counterproductive to supporting local wildlife. Even if you don’t care about the environment, native plants provide a much more interesting and natural setting for your photographs. You can find out which plants grow in your area here. Even if you decide you cannot part with your lawn, building up an area with native ground cover, shrubs, and trees will be appreciated by local fauna.
Equally blasphemous to puritanical sensibilities: leave your leaves alone! Leaf litter enriches soil and provides a food source and habitat for bugs, birds, and other small creatures. If you must rake, instead of bagging your leaves, consider turning your leaves into a “micro-habitat” in an inconspicuous area in your yard. The same is true of brush and garden leftovers. While it is tempting to rip everything up at the end of the growing season, leftover seeds can serve as a crucial food source for a variety of birds over the winter. Build a brush pile with fallen branches, leftover Christmas trees, or other debris. This can provide shelter, as well as a windbreak to protect feeders.
Another way to attract and keep feathered and furry friends is by building nesting boxes. In addition to traditional birdhouses, you can create custom tailored real estate for owls, ducks, bluebirds, and purple martins by varying the size and design of your build. Search online for plans or shop around for pre-fabricated models. If you are up for a challenging photo subject, building a bat box is a great, natural way to cut back on insect populations and introduce fascinating behavior to your yard.
What are your tricks for attracting and photographing wildlife in your yard? Share them in the Comments section, below.
After all the leaves have fallen, I will shred them with my mower. Is that OK?
This is my Passion- My Back Yard is my Sanctuary and tons of Wildlife see it as that also. Oh how I would Love to use the Panasonic S1H to capture as much in detail photo/video as I can before they Demolish the 362 Acres of Woods right behind our Home for Warehouses that our State DOES NOT NEED #NextLevelLumix