Bird-Lore/Volume 01/No. 2/Photographing a Bluebird

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Photographing a Bluebird

By ROBERT W. HEGNER

With Photographs from Nature by the Author.

During the severe cold of January and February, 1895, most of the Bluebirds were thought to have perished. So it is with the spirit of a genuine Audubon that we hail their return in ever increasing numbers each succeeding spring. How sadly we should miss these little friends may be judged by the great commotion among ornithologists caused by their supposed extinction. In order to have more than a mere remembrance of their habits, I set out one day in the summer of 1898, at Decorah, Iowa, to obtain photographs of them in their haunts, and secured two interesting negatives of the female, as shown

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BLUEBIRD FLYING TO NEST

in the accompanying illustrations. The history of the case is as follows: A pair of Bluebirds, after several previous attempts at house-keeping, and subsequent removals by ‘small boys,’ at last selected an old, deserted, Woodpecker’s hole in a fence-post, and built, as usual, a nest of dry grass with a softer lining of horse-hair. The birds had already begun incubating the three pale blue eggs, which formed the set, when I disturbed them. I crept within five feet of the post before the female left the nest and joined her mate, who had been keeping guard in a neighboring plum tree.

Bluebird at nest (Hegner, Bird-Lore).png

BLUEBIRD AT NEST

After focusing my camera to within three feet of the post, and arranging a string attachment, I concealed myself in some bushes about seventy-five feet away. I waited patiently for ten minutes before the female left the tree and flew down to the fence. The male followed close after, and they hopped about the post and wires, getting nearer and nearer the nest, until the female flew straight into the hole. A snap-shot, just before she reached the entrance, was only partially successful, but shows very clearly the pose of the bird's head and neck while it was in the air. It was made in a twenty-fifth of a second with the lens stopped down to sixteen. I disturbed the female several times before she gained the desired position at the nest-opening; but, finally, the snap of the shutter helped bring to life one of my best bird-pictures.

A knowledge of the bird's nesting habits is a prime requisite in avian photography. Much patience is needed, as failures are very numerous. A camera which may be focussed to within two or three feet is an absolute necessity in order to make the picture large enough. Most of my failures have been caused by the lack of bright sunlight, under-exposure, or movement of the bird the instant the picture was taken: but one good photograph is sufficient reward for many trials.