Singing Red-winged Blackbird by Todd Henson

Image of a singing Red-winged Blackbird in a wetlands environment. Click to see a larger view.

Early Spring is a wonderful time to observe Red-winged Blackbirds in wetlands environments. The males hop atop any tall perch, puff up their chests, and sing, looking to attract a mate.

This post includes a sequence of 12 images of a male Red-winged Blackbird as it sings atop its perch. The entire sequence took place in less than 2 seconds. In it you can see the bird puffing itself up, then lifting its head and singing. Click on the image below to cycle through the sequence.

Look closely and you will also see the bird’s nictitating membrane in several of the frames. This is an extra eye lid that closes over the eye while their main eye lid is still open. It can help keep the eye clean and offers some extra protection. See my post about nictitating membranes for more examples.

Red-winged Blackbird with eye fully open. Click the image for a larger view.

Red-winged Blackbird with nictitating membrane covering its eye. Click the image for a larger view.

Next time you’re out and about in a wetlands environment keep your eyes open for red-winged blackbirds (if they happen to pass through your area). And watch their eyes very closely. Perhaps you’ll see their nictitating membrane.

Camera Geekery

This sequence is an example of one of the benefits of some of today’s cameras: a high frame rate. This sequence was shot with a Nikon D500, which can shoot up to 10 frames per second. Some cameras support even higher frame rates.

This is a great benefit when photographing wildlife, sports, or any other fast moving action. It helps capture extra moments during peak action. Just be prepared to sort through a LOT of photographs after you’ve transferred them to your computer.

Below are some cameras with high frame rates (measured in frames per second, or fps), at different price points. The only one I’ve used is the Nikon D500.

The links below are affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you

Nikon D5 - 14 fps

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II - 16 fps

Nikon D500 - 10 fps

Canon 7D Mark II - 10 fps

Nikon D7500 - 8 fps

Canon EOS 70D - 7 fps

Singing Barn Swallow - The Story Behind the Image by Todd Henson

Singing Barn Swallow. Open wide!

When I photograph a bird for the first time I focus initially on just trying to get a good enough image to identify the bird. I have some interest in the nature and biology of wildlife, as well as in photographing it. Then I work on getting the best image I can at that time and in that setting, trying to get closer, picking a better background, moving around the bird until the angle of light is as pleasing as possible. After I’ve captured a nice image I start looking for interesting behavior. Every animal exhibits interesting behaviors. You just have to be patient and spend enough time with them. I guarantee, if you do this you will see some interesting behaviors.

The little barn swallow in these photos was a fantastic subject. Swallows are very interesting birds. They tend to move around a lot, and when flying perform some incredible acrobatics. I often try to photograph these birds in flight, but it’s very difficult. As you can see, I did not manage any flight shots at this setting.

Barn Swallow looking this way with head to the right. Notice the forked tail.

Barn swallows are also very beautiful birds. They have a metallic blue head, back, and wings that just shine in sunlight. And the front of their face and chest are a gorgeous rust orange tone that gets lighter further down the body. I love their forked tail, another distinct feature of barn swallows

Side view of Barn Swallow

I was lucky to have several convenient perches very close to the boardwalk I was on. And barn swallows in this area are not at all afraid of people, so I was fairly close to this one. It would sometimes take to the air, fly around a bit, then return to one of the perches. I spent almost 10 minutes photographing the bird at this specific perch, and another 30 minutes or more at another perch.

Barn Swallow looking up into the sky

You can see a range of behavior in these photos. In one the barn swallow looks straight up to the sky, mouth slightly open. I don’t recall what was in the sky that day. It might have been an osprey or a great blue heron, or perhaps another barn swallow. In other photos the swallow is just looking one way or another. In one it began flapping its wings, but unfortunately I wasn’t prepared for this and ended up cropping the ends of the wings. But I include the photo to show the different behaviors you can see.

Barn Swallow flapping its wings

My favorite behavior of the day was when the barn swallow faced me directly and began singing, almost as if it were serenading me. You can see right down its throat. And notice the nice little catch light in the left eye (the bird’s right eye). The sun was behind me, providing front light to the swallow, and allowing the eye to reflect the light of the sun. I often try to position myself similar to this to place a natural catch light in the eye. There’s something about catch lights that really bring a photo to life. Take a look at a few magazines some time, look for catch lights in the eyes of the people or animals in the photos. I bet you’ll see at least a few. Portrait photographers often try to include catch lights in the eyes of their subjects, sometimes placing flashes or strobes for exactly this purpose.

My favorite behavior: Singing Barn Swallow

I love these little birds for their bright colors, beautiful form, and graceful movements. And I love them for their bold and brave behavior, allowing me to get closer than with many other birds. I hope I’ve been able to pass on a little of my excitement for these wonderful birds.

For another example of interesting bird behavior see my post about a stretching female red-winged blackbird.