Waterfowl Pictures

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Waterfowl Facts, Photography Tips For Getting Great Waterfowl Pictures and Waterfowl Conservation 

Waterfowl Facts:

Waterfowl fall under the family Anatidae and includes ducks, geese and swans and they spend most of their non-flying time on the water.  A female green-winged teal can weigh as little as six ounces, making them the smallest of North America’s waterfowl with the largest being the trumpeter swan weighing in at more than 35 pounds. Most waterfowl fly at speeds of 40 to 60 mph.  With a 50 mph tail wind, migrating mallards are capable of traveling 800 miles during an eight-hour flight. Studies of duck energetics have shown that a mallard would have to feed and rest for three to seven days to replenish the energy expended during this eight hour journey.   However the true long-distance flying champions of all waterfowl are black brant.  They migrate nonstop from coastal Alaska to their wintering grounds in Baja California which is a  journey of roughly 3,000 miles in just 60 to 72 hours.

Waterfowl have as many as 12,000 separate skin muscles used for feather control. Ducks and geese lift or compress their plumage in various ways to help regulate body heat, dive underwater, and express emotions, such as aggression or amorousness.  Several waterfowl—including redheads, canvasbacks, wood ducks, ruddy ducks, hooded mergansers, and snow geese pursue a breeding strategy known as nest parasitism, where females lay eggs in the nests of other females of the same species. Some wood duck nest boxes have been found with as many as 50 eggs laid by multiple hens.  How’s that for outsourcing, might as well have someone else do the heavy lifting. if you can.


Waterfowl Photography – Photography Tips For Getting Great Waterfowl Pictures.

  • Great waterfowl pictures can and should be taken in a variety of lighting and weather conditions.  Overcast and even rainy days add contrast and mood to portraits and sunny days are ideal for flight shots that require faster shutter speeds.  So if you’re lucky enough to find a subject plan a few repeat visits in mixed conditions while at the same time trying not to disturb the bird as much as possible.  Keeping a healthy distance usually does the trick.
  • If you are after flight shots you really need to anticipate the action and where it will be coming from.  As is the case with most birds including waterfowl they prefer to land facing into the wind using it to their advantage in braking a slowing down their forward momentum so keep that in mind when you see waterfowl that appear to be making a descent so you can try to position yourself in the right spot.
  • For flight shots F/8 is my preferred f stop but not at the expense of shutter speed.  If I am shooting at dawn or dusk when the light is falling off I will compensate by bumping the ISO to keep the shutter speed above 1/800 but eventually I drop back to f/4 (2.8 if you have it)  Of course if you are taking portrait shots where the bird is not in motion you won’t need to be as concerned about shutter speed.
  • As with all wildlife photography focus on the eye is key.  This is especially so with waterfowl as you will often see reflections from the water in their eyes and if the eye is not in focus it is amplified even further.
  • Whether they are static or flying you need to pay attention to the background in order to get winning waterfowl pictures.  I am always on the lookout for waterfall in bull rushes, near a rock out cropping, or shorelines that offer flat water surfaces with great reflections from the surrounding vegetation or tree line.


Waterfowl Conservation:

Wetlands are crucial to the populations of migratory birds, however sadly since the turn of the century wetlands in Canada and the United States had disappeared as a result of development.  By 1985, at least 53 percent of wetlands in the contiguous United States and a minimum of 29 percent of wetlands in Canada had been destroyed. This led to plummeting populations of waterfowl, which reached “record lows” in 1985.(1)

In response the North American Waterfowl Management Plan was signed by the US and Canadian governments in 1986 Plan and later joined by Mexico in 1994.

In Canada, the program was officially launched in 1989 with the founding of the Eastern Habitat Joint Venture to protect and enhance wetlands in Eastern Canada which are important to migratory birds in the Atlantic Flyway and to a lesser extent those in the Mississippi Flyway.

To date, Plan joint ventures have invested $4.5 billion to protect, restore, and/or enhance 15.7 million acres of waterfowl habitat.   Their projects not only advance waterfowl conservation, but make substantial contributions toward the conservation of all wetland-associated species.

You can become active in this worthwhile waterfowl conservation effort by donating to or becoming a volunteer with Ducks Unlimited.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan(1)