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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.


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
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.

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