Birds For Beginners: They gotta stay still and be big enough to shoot

The Great Blue is the largest heron in North America.

We loved this comment and question from Candy Krewer of Montana:

“I am a beginner birder and love to try to photograph birds. The Great Blue Heron is a current favorite since it’s a large target, often standing still! I also have a LBB (little brown bird) as a regular on my list. Please tell me more about what birds you are following.”

If you’re learning to take pictures of birds, you can’t go wrong with a Great Blue Heron. Big shorebirds were also among our favorites when Anders and I  got hooked on birding five years ago, and we love them still. The herons and egrets often fish in the same spot for long stretches, and when they take to the sky, it’s a sight to behold.

A nesting pair of Roseate Spoonbills.

We’re currently in Florida for a few weeks, and so we’re surrounded by shorebirds. As to Candy’s query about what we’re following right now, the Roseate Spoonbill is my hands-down favorite. It’s pink and fluffy, funny and frilly — and it just makes me gasp every time we see one.

Spoonbill or a photographer’s sitting duck?

Did I mention photogenic? Anders heard about the Stick Marsh Critical Wildlife Area near Melbourne, Fla., where there are two protected islands stuffed with nesting Spoonbills. So last week we set out to find them. Even shooting in the “wrong” afternoon light, I think the photos Anders got were stunning. We’ll definitely go back at dawn. (The Stick Marsh site is adjacent to the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area. Click here for more information.)

As for other “Beginner Birds” that keep still and are big enough to shoot, woodpeckers are tough to beat. It’s hard to know if we’re following them or they’re following us. Woodpeckers make a lot of noise (so you can find them), and some species, like the Red-bellied, are common. Once alight on a suitable tree, they tend to stay put and peck away.

Pileated Woodpecker near Asheville, N.C., photographed last spring.

As a photographer Anders is particularly drawn to the Pileated Woodpecker. It’s huge, about the size of a crow, and is the largest commonly seen woodpecker in North America. Unlike birds whose feathers turn drab in fall, the Pileated is always handsome. Their preferred habitat is postcard-worthy, too.

As a birder who doesn’t take pictures, I’m still in pursuit of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It’s the only woodpecker in the Eastern U.S. that I still need to add to my life list. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds of North America website, the Red-cockaded was once common in the South but has been officially Endangered since 1968. However, it does live in Florida pine forests year-round, so I might get lucky.

This is just a partial list of the birds we’re currently following, as Candy requested, but it’s probably enough for now. There are many more birds we could recommend for a fledgling photographer, and so many we’ve yet to encounter. Stay tuned to Flying Lessons as we share our journey. 

If you have Beginner Bird suggestions for Candy, please scroll down to share your thoughts in our comments box below. We’ll all be grateful!

The Red-Bellied is common in the eastern U.S.






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