Glenn Bartley, bird photographer from Canada, is always looking for the next bright bird to fly in front of his lens. In this article, he takes us on a colorful journey through tropical America and Canada (Warning: This might enhance your mood, especially on grey days).
For many years now, I have travelled extensively throughout the “New World” in search of the most interesting, exciting, and often very colorful birds. As anyone who has ever flipped through a South American field guide knows, tropical America is blessed with a multitude of stunning birds that give avid birdwatchers and photographers endless enticing targets to dream about. Finding and photographing them is not always easy, though.
In this article, I’ll share with you a few of my favorite colorful birds to hopefully brighten things up and get you through grey days of any sort.
These tiny little puffballs exemplify what is so exciting about tropical birds. As members of the flycatcher family, these little guys live in wetland areas where they tend to stay quite hidden. But what a joy it is when they reveal themselves from their marshy realms and show off their stunning colors!
An article about colorful neotropical birds would not be complete without the Multicolored tanager. This little beauty is endemic to Colombia and can certainly be a tricky one to photograph. It and its two cousins from the same genus (Glistening Green and Orange-eared tanagers) are all extremely erratic, fast-moving birds. They flit from branch to branch with a very nervous energy and rarely pause for more than a second. Perseverance is certainly worthwhile though, and finally capturing a nice image where all the elements of a quality photo come together is that much more rewarding.
Existing only in a tiny area in Northern Peru, the Marvelous Spatuletail is one of the most unbelievable birds on earth. As if the striking purple crown and green gorget weren’t enough, the male birds have an incredible tail consisting of four highly specialized and unusual feathers. Trailing well behind the tiny bird, these feathers bounce about and shimmer hues of purple and blue. What a burden it must be for these birds to carry around such a tail. All in the hopes of attracting a mate and continuing their line.
Swallows are such incredibly adept flying machines. In fact, they remind me of little fighter jets as they zip around. It is not just the speed either! They are incredibly agile and seem to change directions in an instant. While all of this is fascinating to watch, it also makes them incredibly difficult to photograph. For me, the Violet Green Swallow is the most beautiful of the Swallow family and I really wanted to achieve a high-quality flight shot that shows off the bird’s namesake colors. It took me quite a while to do it. But I finally got one I am happy with.
The lesser Antilles in the Caribbean are blessed with two species of Carib hummingbirds. While the Green-throated is a good-looking bird, there is simply no comparing it to this guy. When looked at from just the right angle, the patchwork of incredible colors shown on the Purple-throated Carib is breathtaking. What a stunning Hummingbird!
Without doubt the Resplendent Quetzal is one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Seeing one of these birds fly through the cloud forest, with its three-foot-long tail feathers streaming behind it, is something that every birder should experience. And while the tail is the first thing you notice, it is the striking combination of the red breast, iridescent green body and bright yellow bill that make this bird one that is beyond comparison.
This species is another one of my all-time favorites. The transition from green to red to gold is absolutely stunning to see in the wild. It is even more spectacular when rivaling birds get into territorial squabbles. As the birds chase each other, they will often splay open their tail feathers to reveal two long stunning plumes. What a sight!
Of all the photos of hummingbirds that I have taken over the years, this one garners by far the most attention. And I can understand why! The Tufted Coquette is one striking little bird. And somehow this image seems to show off all its best qualities.
Every once in a while, a bird gives you the perfect shot. On a recent trip to Colombia, there was a family of these Black-billed Mountain Toucans voraciously feeding on this fruiting tree. What a thrill to watch them hop from perch to perch, selecting the ripest fruits before tossing them up in the air and gobbling them down.
Glenn Bartley is a bird photographer from Victoria, BC, Canada. He focuses almost all his efforts on capturing intimate portraits of birds in their natural environment. Glenn also leads photo tours throughout the Neotropics and is the author of the recently released book “Hummingbirds: A Celebration of Nature’s Jewels”.
To see more of Glenn’s work, visit his website.