Guide to Attracting Critters to Your Garden for Backyard Wildlife Photography

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Wildlife photography brings with it some natural challenges. One of the greatest being that it is often difficult to have regular access to wild animals to photograph. Many of us are guilty of looking further afield for our subjects, but our own back gardens are prime locations for attracting, and photographing wildlife.

Live in the city suburbs? Doesn’t matter. Your area is likely to be bustling with bird life that you aren’t aware of yet. This guide will run you through a few of the best ways you can attract birds and animals to your garden for easier wildlife photography.

Provide Supplementary Food

Animals are suckers for food. They’re often hungry and looking for their next meal. The best way to get them to come to your garden is to provide nutritious, supplementary food. There are a variety of different methods you can use to feed wild animals.

Bird feeders are available in many different sizes and shapes. A normal tube system with various feeding holes is available from your local pet shop or garden centre. They’re inexpensive, and can be filled with many different varieties of seed. You can buy wild bird food from the same place, and get anything from mixed seeds to solely sunflower hearts. I use the latter, and to great effect.

For attracting mammals, you can get a variety of ground feeders. Squirrels, for example, love peanuts, hazelnuts and other nutty foods.
Robin in Snow

Don’t Forget the Ethics

By providing supplementary food to animals, you must not overfeed them. Fill the feeders maybe 2-3 times per week, so that they do not become dependent on you as a food source.

Make sure what you are feeding them is suitable. Ask a garden centre for advice if you need help. If using peanuts, they must be completely natural (not roasted) and unsalted!

If you decide to stop providing food, you must do so gradually. Slowly reduce the amount you are feeding over a month or so, allowing the animals to adjust naturally. Otherwise, you could end up unintentionally starving some individuals.

Getting Close for Photography

Many garden birds will allow you to sit quietly near the feeders, as they will eventually get used to you. However, if you want more freedom to move without scaring them away, get yourself a small tent hide (blind). These are available on Amazon at relatively cheap prices. A shooting blind will do the job perfectly.

Hide

Making an Area Photogenic

So by now you have the wildlife, but you still need to capture those stunning shots. A bird on a feeder isn’t the most attractive of images, but there are some neat tricks to avoid this.

Place some gnarled twigs and sticks around the feeders. If you need to, strap them to a pole so they are held horizontally. Birds will use these as queueing platforms for the feeders, waiting their turn to feed. You can utilize this moment to capture some lovely portraits of the birds on these photogenic branches. If you’re lucky, you may even get two birds fighting for pride of place.

You should also be wary of your backgrounds. If you are photographing with a messy backdrop, it will likely come out in the image and be distracting. If there’s no choice of positioning next to something plainer, then consider hanging a dark green sheet at a distance behind your subjects. This will create a pleasing bokeh for your photographs.

Red Poll and Siskin Fight

Be Patient

The key to wildlife photography is patience. Changes won’t just happen overnight. Provide food and wait, and eventually you’ll see results. It shouldn’t take too long, but birds don’t have a radar which tells them as soon as food is available – they have to find it first!

That’s just about it. Fine-tune your feeding stations overtime, adding or subtracting elements depending on what works and what doesn’t work. Good luck!

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Will Nicholls is a professional wildlife photographer and film-maker from the UK. He has won multiple awards for his work, including the title of Young British Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2009. Will runs a blog for nature photographers, Nature TTL, which provides tutorials and inspirational articles to readers. He also has a free eBook available called 10 Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Nature Photos.

  • Hugh J

    ” One of the greatest being that it is often difficult to have regular access to wild animals to photograph.”

    And then, in Casas Adobes, AZ, sometimes they look at the ‘backyard’ as theirs in the first place.

  • Marlowe

    Meanwhile while waiting, be on the lookout for some tiny creatures in the backyard…

  • pete guaron

    I’m afraid that I put my love of wildlife ahead of my passion for photography. Where I live, there have been numerous warnings and reports BEGGING people NOT to feed the wild swans, for example – it isn’t kindness, it’s cruelty – the food they were offered was generally bread (and often, stale bread), and quite unsuitable, making them ill or even killing them.

    I think that if we are to go down this path, we should step back for a moment – find out WHAT we are feeding – WHAT they normally eat – and make sure we offer something within THEIR range.

    In recent years, I’ve down sized because I can no longer tend a large garden. But in my previous house, I adopted a totally different approach to attracting birdlife. The garden had been poorly planned and heavily overplanted, before I took over. I reworked it – stripping some garden beds entirely – and thinning out the shrubs. Some of my friends told me I had gone to the opposite extreme, and it looked “too bare”. I told them the shrubs would grown, and took no notice of their criticisms.

    In reworking the garden, I focused on several principles.
    One, planting “native” plants – trees, shrubs, flowers, whatever. That wasn’t for some obsessive love for such plants – it was to create a habitat suitable for the local birdlife.
    Two, by underplanting, I achieved for the birds something they adore – they found spaces between the branches within the shrubs, forming “tunnels” that they could fly through, knowing that their presence – their whereabouts – their activities – were screened from above. They had some protection, in short. And until you’ve watched something like that, in action, you cannot imagine the pleasure it gave the birds.
    And three, I subdivided the garden into different “garden rooms” – different spaces, with differing appearance and emphasis in each.

    The result? Birdlife that you couldn’t imagine, in a suburban garden. A resident owl – a visit from a pelican (that was awkward – he landed easily, but take off & departure was quite a logistical problem for both of us – LOL) – humming birds – no less than EIGHT kookaburras in my garden all at the same time, which was unheard of, they are so territorial that you almost NEVER see more than one mating pair in your garden at the one time . . . . and on and on and on the list went. My own private aviary – with no netting, nothing to cause harm to the birds – there were even several small ponds that they could use for whatever reason they might like to.

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