Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Early Bird Builds The Nest!

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In the Field

The Early Bird Builds The Nest!. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 22, 2022.

This early bird - a female Mountain Bluebird - wasn't caring a BIT about "getting the worm" when I snapped this image. Rather, she was fixated on starting her breeding season...and that begins with nest-building. In Mountain Bluebirds females alone construct the nest, though their brilliantly colored mates hang closely nearby and watch everything they're doing. I'm not sure if the males provide moral support, if they are mostly micro-managing the process or, more likely, if they find there's nothing more relaxing than watching someone else work! I'd love to know what's going on in the female bluebird's mind..."Lazy bum...couldn't you just carry a strand or two of grass?"

This natural perch sits just outside the bluebird's nest hole and both the male and female land on it regularly during the nesting cycle. But the perch (and its occupant) is only "kissed" by the first beams of the rising sun for a few minutes each clear morning in the spring. I've been observing and photographing several species of birds in and around this location for a number of years, but this was the first time I've managed to capture an image of one in "nest-building" mode right when the sun was rising. And, best of all, she treated me with this great side-lit pose! I must be doing something right!

This image was captured with a Nikon Z 9 using 3D-tracking AF area mode (with subject detection on and in Animal mode). One of the things I find I REALLY like about using 3D-tracking in a situation like this is that I can pretty much forget about focusing (and thinking about where the focus point is) and just concentrate on composition. This has led me to rely far less on "composition by cropping" than ever before, and I find I am getting a far higher proportion of shots that need no compositional work in my post-production workflow. Nice...

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of this industrious female Mountain Bluebird hard at work:

The Early Bird Builds The Nest! Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 3.4 MB)


1. These images - in all resolutions - are protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all photographs on this website, these images were captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

The Early Bird Builds The Nest!. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 22, 2022.

Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 180.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S plus Z-TC 2x (800mm total focal length). Hand-held. VR on in Normal mode. 3D-tracking AF area mode with subject recognition on (in Animal mode).

1/125s @ f8; -0.3 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Early Bird Builds The Nest!. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 22, 2022.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 22. Global adjustments on this image were limited to a single minor exposure adjustment. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 8 separate layers and included one or more tweaks to brightness, color (using both the Color Editor and the Color Balance tool), and selective sharpening (using both standard sharpening tools and structure).

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


The Early Bird Builds The Nest!. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 22, 2022.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

The Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) is a brilliantly coloured thrush found over much of western North America. Despite its name, it is NOT limited in distribution to mountain regions. In the early 1900's Mountain Bluebird populations plummeted due to loss of nesting habitat (natural cavities) due to the introduction of alien species, including House Sparrows and Starlings. An aggressive conservation effort in the form of the introduction of species-specific nest boxes worked and today bluebirds are common again.

This adult female Mountain Bluebird was photographed in the East Kootenays of BC, Canada. The area supports a strong population of Mountain Bluebirds and smaller population of Western Bluebirds.

One of the most fascinating things about the Mountain Bluebird is that the striking ultraviolet-blue coloration of feathers does not come from any type of pigment that has been incorporated into feathers. Instead, the source of the coloration is completely "structural" in that the microanatomy of the feather barbs in a way that primarily reflects ultraviolet and blue light while largely absorbing wavelengths of light that are perceived by humans as other colors (green, yellow, red, etc.). So what you are seeing is differentially reflected ultraviolet-blue light...NOT pigmentation!

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada