Photographing Rainforest Birds


Well, they are sort of in the rainforest. They live in a huge 26,600-square-foot enclosure at the Buffalo Zoo called the M&T Bank Rainforest Falls. I have been in an actual rainforest and birds are not quite this easy to locate since the tree canopy is very high, yet this place is large so it has the feel of being in a rainforest. The back wall of the exhibit is similar to a flat-topped mountain. Lush vegetation and a 25 foot high working waterfall make it a beautiful sight and give the visitor a tropical experience.


This rainforest is in a world of its own, separate from the City and zoo that surrounds it. Rain falls around six times a day, as it does in the wet season in Central and South American countries of the Amazon rainforest ecoregions. Temperature and humidity in the facility remain tropical even on the snowiest night of our Buffalo winters. Today I was at a members only party, and all the birds were entertaining the guests. The birds usually hang out at the top of the canopy, but today, some were down near the people.

Belize-blue- crowned-motmot

A few came right up to me, like the Motmot and the Scarlet Ibis. Many of the birds are very tame around people, yet still have full flight throughout the structure. You might find this odd, but birds in the actual rainforest will come to people also on occasion. Hummingbirds especially even land on people. The parrots will come near people too.

Scarlet-Ibis-3Photographing them is not completely unlike being in nature. They still can be very far from the camera and hidden amongst the dense vegetation. Some shots of the exhibit below give you a sense of the size of the building.

A two-story waterfall is a main attraction, dropping the falls to where dwarf caiman and river turtles live in the water basin below, and a capybara, a large rodent that looks like a giant guinea pig rests on the shore.

Roseate Spoonbill

Since this post is about the birds, I will show monkeys next. In a real rainforest they are not very shy around people either. They would be annoyed by us and often try to run us out of their terratory.

Something very similar to a real rainforest is how dim it is in the exhibit due to the tree canopy. It makes getting a faster shutter speed a bit more difficult. Some of the photos were taken at 1/20 sec – 1/60 sec, handheld with the ISO at 1600. You can imagine how dark a place this is for taking photographs.

Bird--blueBoat-Billed--Heron-3The two birds above were together. Is that not the most miserable looking Boat-billed Heron above? I can’t tell if it is a male, but it sure looks mean.

Although most of the birds in the exhibit have free flight, the Toucan is in an exhibit with monkeys, and does not have the entire exhibit to explore. To photograph the birds, I did have to spend time being patient for them to be still.





One thing to note, there are flocks of these birds in the exhibit, not just one or two of each bird. This also reinforces a more natural feel to the exhibit. The netting you see helps keep the birds from the windows. One ibis was killed when the exhibit first opened by flying into the window. The keepers had the windows soaped, but the bird still flew into the window.

I know some of you frown on photography at the zoo since animals are not roaming free in nature. On Garden Walk Garden Talk, I have a hawk and Tundra Swans coming up just in case you thought me going soft and lazy on my nature photography.

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13 Responses to Photographing Rainforest Birds

  1. aussiebirder says:

    Wow!!! What beautiful birds, and a beautiful place and magnificent photography! Wow! I adore the Scarlet Ibis, so with it was in our country, what a stunner of a bird!

    • donna213 says:

      Thank you. I really like the ibis too. I always find them difficult to get a good photo though. The red color blends and it is hard to see detail. It is funny, even though some of these birds are in rain forests, some come to our marshes too. I wish we got that Belize Motmot. I never heard of it in the US and don’t know how far they migrate.

  2. Hi Donna,
    I had never heard about this bird sanctuary. It must be most lovely. If my wife and I visit, how difficult is the walking? She uses a cane, has a lot of difficulty with stairs, and her knee and hip joints get tired easily. For example, she would find the Butterfly Conservatory near Niagara Falls on the Canadian side to be very challenging because of the stairs.

    Beautiful photography. Thank you for that.

    • donna213 says:

      Hi Tom. I think the Rainforest exhibit is accessible. The iasles are wide, inclines slight and although stone, paths are pretty flat. I never checked if they have an elevator to the second level to see birds in the canopy, but something tells me they do. You might call the Buffalo zoo and ask. I am sure you both would enjoy this place. I see lots of older folks spending a long day in the facility. I talked with a number of them. There are benches along the path and it is a great place to have quite moments.

  3. Mike Powell says:

    This exhibit comes as close as most of us can ever come to being in a real rain forest and I appreciate your sharing your beautiful photos with us. I have no issues with taking photos at zoos and other such places, as long as the photographer doesn’t try to pass them off as taken in the wild. As you described so well, there were real challenges in getting these images in terms of lighting and backgrounds, as well as the fact that there birds have lots of freedom to fly away from you whenever they want.

    • donna213 says:

      Thanks Mike. I do know I have seen some photographers make mention of photographing zoo animals. I did a post on GWGT on that, and I do agree location should be mentioned upfront. I also think some of the photographers may not realize that not at all zoos are the animals right in front of you. In Buffalo, it is a small zoo comparatively, and most animals are close. This rainforest exhibit is the largest in our zoo. Under construction now is a new exhibit for the polar bears. It looks to be more more spacious than the one currently. Another thing the photographers never mention, the animals are often in their dens and one must wait for them to come out. I know I have stood and waited. That too is a bit like in nature, where one waits and waits. I have waited at a woodpecker hole in the wild just like waiting for the otters to emerge at the zoo. On GWGT I will have the otters. They also have a large exhibit.

  4. Great photos! It’s a wonderful exhibit, especially at this time of year.

  5. Gorgeous birds and such characters! Amazing shots, Donna [but then – you already know!] 🙂

  6. Fabulous photos of these beautiful birds! The scarlet ibis is really stunning, and I love the capture of the roseate spoonbill. 🙂

  7. Oh those colors! Luscious.

  8. Stunning birds that you captured beautifully Donna…that is one mean looking heron!

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