How to Set Up a Feeding Station for Wildlife
You could read all the tutorials on this website and be comfortable with your camera, but there is still the issue of finding a subject to photograph. There are many public hides available across the world where you can view birds, but nothing beats having your own location. This article will provide a comprehensive guide to setting up your own feeding station to attract wildlife. Even if you don’t have access to a woodland, this will work in most back gardens. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to British bird species. Though the methods described will work worldwide.
There are many garden birds that will welcome a feeding station that provides them with supplementary food. The most common of which include the blue tits, great tits and chaffinches. Depending on where you live, you could easily attract siskins, redpolls, goldfinches, bramblings, bullfinches and many more beautiful birds. The key to having a successful feeding station is to keep those feeders topped up with a variety of different foods.
You can buy bird feeders from almost any garden centre or pet shop around. They come in all shapes and sizes. The most common feeder is a short cylinder with two holes at the bottom, but you can buy deluxe versions that can accommodate many birds at once. Garden birds are sloppy eaters, shredding and dropping seeds all over the place. It won’t be long before the ground underneath your feeders has some new plants growing. So if you are very particular about your garden, buy a bird feeder that has a tray attached to the bottom to catch the debris.
If you are getting a regular stream of birds to the garden, it is important to put multiple feeders out. Otherwise, with many birds waiting in line for one feeder you will begin to see fighting. Whilst this can make for great photographic opportunities, too much of it can be harmful to the birds and result in injuries.
Sunflower hearts are a favourite with all birds, and are easily sought from any bird food dealer. There are also other seed types which are favoured towards different species, for example niger seed is great for attracting goldfinches. Dried mealworms are at the top of the list for robins, and I find that long-tailed tits are suckers for peanuts (put in a peanut feeder, to avoid choking young birds).
When putting out food for animals, it is important to ensure that they do not become totally reliant on your food source. You should only be giving supplementary food to their normal diet. To do this, feed every few days – not every day. There should be a couple of days each week where the feeders are empty. This allows the animals to continue fending for themselves, and thus teaching their young how to feed naturally.
It is also important to ensure you do not forget to put out food, or suddenly stop, once you have started. If you have had enough, you must slowly decrease the amount of food you provide. Suddenly removing a food source can cause some animals to not be able to find enough to eat, if populations have increased since you started.
Props & Perches
As queues develop for the feeders, you will see many birds lined up waiting their turn. By carefully positioning perches around the feeders, you can cause the birds to wait in photogenic locations. Walking through a woodland can allow you to pick up nice gnarled twigs and branches that make for great props.
It is often possible to sit quietly and let the birds get used to you so they will come closer. However, it is easier and better for photography to purchase a pop-up tent hide and conceal yourself and any sudden movements. There are a few types of hide you can buy. At the lower end, there are some bog standard shooting hides on eBay all the time. At the higher end, you can buy very good quality hides produced solely for photographers at Wildlife Watching Supplies. They sell a variety of hides to suit every need, and their products are widely used, including by the BBC Natural History Unit. In the image below you can see one of my own WWS hides.
You may know the rough location of where you want to put your hide, but that isn’t good enough. You need to be precise and work out the best position that will help you achieve the best photos. Take into account where the light is coming from throughout the day. Do your targets appear in the morning and evening, or midday? Work this out, and then ensure that the sunlight is not blocked (for example by trees or other obstacles) from coming into the feeding station.
Be careful about your backgrounds. If you are photographing in front of a very messy backdrop, it is likely that you’ll get a displeasing and unclean background to your photographs. Make sure you have your feeding station set far enough away from any messy backdrops so that they are out of focus enough to disappear.
And that’s pretty much everything! A successful feeding station doesn’t happen overnight. Regular feeding and attention, coupled with patience, will put you on the right track. Good luck!