Birding in the Backyard


Nature is all around us, if we know where to look. For local photographer Barbara Cunningham, signs of the natural world abound, as evidenced by the many types of birds she’s captured in her own backyard.

The tufted titmouse pays a visit. These guys are commonly seen in our area, and through much of the eastern United States, year-round. According to Audubon Society, the titmouse has been pushing farther north, driven in part by backyard bird feeders like mine. They’ll commonly fly back and forth from the feeder, carrying just one seed at a time.

Being in the right place at the right time is everything. My camera is always nearby so that I can respond quickly in those moments when I see something interesting.

And I catch a lot of interesting sights around the birdfeeder and my backyard landscape.

Birds usually don’t sit still for very long, so patience and timing are important. If the bird is perched, I can slow down my shutter speed, but when the bird is in flight, I need a faster shutter speed to freeze the movement of their wings.

Lighting is essential. Early morning and later afternoon light intrigue me, but it’s not the only time I can get the best pictures.

People often ask whether I use a phone. Actually, I use a high-powered telephoto lens to capture my images.
In the following pages, you’ll see just a scattering of birds who’ve shown up around my home in the winter months.

An eastern bluebird perches in the tree on a sunny day in late winter. These birds are known to be among the earliest arrivals in spring, and they stay late into the fall, according to Audubon Society. Their range extends from southern Canada toward the Gulf of Mexico, and they’re even known to reside as far south as Nicaragua. When it comes to nesting, though, they’re extremely picky. They like nesting boxes, without a perch, that face toward the east.

Above, Top:

The junco is a common sight across most of North America. it’s often seen hopping around the ground as it forages for seeds and insects. They love nesting in open woods, undergrowth and brush during winter, especially near clearings and edges of forests. During these cold months, they love foraging for seeds and among grasses or weeds.

The goldfinch is a common sight all across the United States. It loves to climb around in weeds, shrubs and trees as it forages for seeds to eat – its main source of food.

Cardinals have a special affection for sunflower seeds and are common visitors to the birdfeeder.

The red-bellied woodpecker is in its northernmost reaches around our region, although Audubon Society reports those ranges have been increasing in recent years. By reputation, they love searching for insects in trees, but they’re also partial to seeds and nuts, sometimes hiding them in the crevices of trees during the fall, so they’ll have something to eat during the winter. These birds don’t migrate like other species will. Instead, they tend to remain around the same location, so long as there’s food.

About Barbara Cunningham

My love for photography began when I was in junior high. I was a photographer for the yearbook, and we used the dark room to develop and print pictures.

I’m a cosmetologist by training and worked in the industry for many years, until my children were born. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with them throughout their growing-up years.

My husband, Dave, and I have lived in England, Seattle, Boston, upstate New York and finally, back where I grew up: Rockford. In all of these places, I have had many opportunities to continue exploring my passion for photography.

I’m usually the person taking photos at family and friends’ events, and it’s rare to find me without my camera nearby. I continue learning every chance I get, like when our son started playing volleyball, and I challenged myself to learn about photographing a fast-moving indoor sport.

Our home here in Illinois has the ideal setting to attract a plethora of birds. I began taking pictures of them for my own enjoyment, sharing them, at first, only with friends and family. I quickly began to notice how much people enjoyed seeing the beauty of nature captured in the photos I was taking, whether it sparked an emotion, soothed a soul, rekindled a fond memory or reminded them of the perfection of our natural world. It was different for everyone. My goal is to create a piece of artwork that allows people to bring the beauty of nature into their home.

If you’d like to connect, contact me at {AT}