08.20.17: Leaving

A female Eastern Bluebird takes flight, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio. 


Technical information

March 12, 2016,
8:46 a.m.

40°6’43” N,
82°57'32" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/1000th second


Photographing large birds in flight isn’t extremely difficult. Soaring hawks, ospreys and eagles tend to circle slowly and are large enough to make focusing easy. Same with birds like herons and egrets, who don’t set any speed records flying point to point.

But catching smaller birds in flight is pure luck, from my experience. They are quick and often unpredictable in flight. Plus they are small, which makes focusing on the tiny, unpredictable moving object impossible.

I got lucky this time.

I was photographing this female Eastern Bluebird perched atop a plant stem. I have hundreds of similar shots. Bluebird seem to enjoy perching on the top of plant stems.

I was focused on the bird's eye when it flew away suddenly and I continued on my photo hike. 

When I returned home I was surprised — and pleased — when I saw this photo on the computer. The bird’s path of departure was straight toward my position and my camera and kept focus on the head as the bird took flight. (For photographers: When shooting wildlife I have my autofocus mode set to AI Servo on my Canon camera. This allows the camera to track focus on a moving object, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the object will be in immediate focus if it moves suddenly).

Through the years I’ve deleted tons of blurred, out of focus shots of birds that suddenly flew from a perch. Almost all of those were of birds that flew off at an angle. Maybe the fact that this Bluebird flew at me made it easier for the camera to track focus.

It was one of those happy accidents that I’ll gladly accept.

Eastern Bluebirds have become a somewhat common sight in the Eastern U.S. and here in Central Ohio. But that wasn’t the case 25 years ago, when harsh winters, the destruction of natural habitat, the harmful effect of pesticides and competition with other cavity nesters combined to make the Eastern Bluebird a rare sight.

The number of Eastern Bluebirds had declined almost 90 percent from populations recorded in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The significant decline led to the Eastern Bluebird being declared a rare species in the late 1970s.The rebound of the Eastern Bluebird population can be credited to the efforts of wildlife enthusiasts who worked to create habitats attractive to the remaining birds. In 1978, the North American Bluebird Society was formed to encourage the installation of nest boxes. This extensive effort provided sufficient nesting locations for Bluebirds as the species competes with other cavity nesters (swallows, chickadees, wrens, house sparrows, starlings) for nesting sites. The efforts were so successful that the Eastern Bluebird was removed from the rare species list in 1996.

Bluebirds prefer to nest in open fields, meadows, hedges or gardens. Several metro parks in the Columbus area (like Sharon Woods Metro Park) have numerous nesting boxes in fields. The Bluebirds can often be found perched on the boxes, on plants in the fields or on tree limbs adjacent to the fields.

The male Bluebird is more colorful than the female, with deeper blue feathers on its head/back and a bright chestnut chest above a white belly. The female is more muted, with the blue feathers taking on more of a gray cast and the chestnut chest more subdued. 

In recent years a growing number of Eastern Bluebirds have become year-round residents of Central Ohio in spite of the often harsh winter weather in the area. I’ve seen several Bluebirds braving the snow during my winter treks through the parks.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.