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myBlog » Blog Archive » Getting Birds off Barbed Wire

Getting Birds off Barbed Wire

How many images of Shrikes and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers do you see on barbed wire fences?

It’s rare when you see images of those species on natural perches. Most photographers tend to be content with images of them on wire fences, as they feel that is where the birds hang out.

For me, I believe if man had not introduced fences into their habitat, then you would see them on natural perches, so that is always my goal: To have no “Hand-of-Man” in my images.
I want to be up front before I go into how I tackle this problem. This is a low percentage shot. It does not work all the time, but when it does, you have a unique and hard to get image.

In Texas during the fall migration, we get hundreds to thousands of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers staging on the Upper Texas Coast waiting for North winds to carry them on their journey South.

On some days you can see dozens and dozens of Flycatchers on wire fences on most coastal roads. This was the case on the day I did this setup. The number of birds increased my odds of pulling this off.

The image below shows a typical road where many Flycatchers were hanging out. (the birds are not in the image as they took off when I got out of my car to take this picture)

The idea is to set up a natural perch above and parallel to the barbed wire. To do this, first find or cut a straight stick, then attached to a fence post using zip ties.

Here’s a close up of attaching the stick with zip ties.

The next step, choose a nice perch. Try to find one that is firm and of the same diameter as the barbed wire.

In the image below I chose a sunflower stalk (growing nearby) as a perch.

Then attach the perch to the upright stick using zip ties. Make sure the perch is horizontal when you are finished.

To increase the chances of getting the bird on the perch and not on the wire, grab clumps of grass and lay them along the wire.

Cover the wire with grass for at least 20 yards on either side of the perch. As the Flycatchers move up and down the fence line feeding, the grass will deter them for landing on the wire.

Once everything is in place, set the camera and lens up to shoot out of your car window (Scissor-tails are very comfortable with cars getting close.)

Below is the view with the distant field as background. Then it’s just a matter of waiting.

I got lucky with the bird landing at last light as the wind dropped. When there is no wind the Scissor-tails will drop their tail making a more pleasing image.

Nikon D300s, 600 MM, ISO 250, f8, 1/160.

This set-up can be done in about 10 minutes and can yeild some unique and fun photo opportunities.

Remember to bring your zip ties, pruning shears and some patience.

6 Responses to “Getting Birds off Barbed Wire”

  1. Diane Grimmeison Says:

    Thanks for the great tip, which makes the photo so much better!!!

  2. Clement Francis Says:

    Alan,

    You are the man, you come out with such great idea and share them so generously. God Bless U and keep going at it.

    Clement

  3. Flues Says:

    You’re the best. Thanks

  4. Jim Enterkin Says:

    That is a great set up. We do not have any Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in Ga. but we do have Meadowlarks that like to set on wire fence. Do you think it would work for them. Thanks.
    Jim.

  5. Alan Says:

    Hey Jim,

    I believe this can work for any species that use barbed wire and fence posts. I’m not sure if you have my ebook, but I go into great detail showing a different way to get Meadowlarks on to your perch.

    http://www.alanmurphyphotography.com/ebook.htm

  6. Jacqueline Deely Says:

    Hello Alan, I came across your website via the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory who are offering your “Guide to Songbird Set-up Photography” CD as part of their annual photography competition. I am so glad I found you. Your tips and techniques are fantastic and I can’t wait to try some of them out myself. I too shoot with a D300. I now just need to start saving for that 600mm lens:(

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