Barbed Wire Fence, Dead Bird, Suspended

Rancho Cordova, CA

Taking a departure from the usual landscape photography today.  Regardless of whether the viewer may consider this a bit too much on the morbid side or not, this is an example of the saying “the best camera is the one you have with you.”  It has become a habit to have my dSLR with me in the car at all times.  And despite the busy lives many of us have, there are times where you do have to stop and smell the roses (or photograph dead birds).

How I came across this grisly scene is more out of sheer luck than anything else.  The usual twice monthly dinner plans with old co-workers was cancelled for this week.  I ended up in the next city over to do some purchases and then decided to take a route home that 99.9% of the time I would not have taken.  While somewhat lamenting this new route to be a slightly further drive than expected, I was also scanning the scenery around me for possible landscape compositions, when I spied a brilliant yellow color suspended from the barbed wire across the road.  As is the case with most of my roadside photography, it took me a few seconds to decide to turn back around and pull off the side of the busy 2-lane road without running myself into the dirt and gravel drainage ditch.  These were definitely not circumstances that would normally occur and would lead me to this road on any day.  I had to stop and shoot this.

It is a bit unknown how this bird died.  Much like trees, plants, and cloud formations, I had not a clue as to its species.  A quick internet search of “Northern California birds” landed me on David Leahy’s website and I suspect this might be a Western Meadowlark.  I could not tell if the bird had somehow tangled its foot in the cross strands of the wire, struggled and then died or if it just passed away while on the wire and by some coincidence had enough of a grip to continue hanging on.  But as you can see, the brilliant yellow color swinging in the wake of passing cars against the brooding sky just might catch your eye while driving past.  With all the cars speeding by, their drivers must have wondered what I was intently photographing or if they could see the bird, wonder what type of person would be out there snapping photographs of it.  I suppose I’m that person.

Updated 2012 Apr 01: Based on some discussions on here and elsewhere, I wanted to see what other crops could be done on this photograph.  The crop with only the sky is a perfect 1:1 box crop while the photograph with minimal grass is slightly beyond 1:1 as the height was elongated just a bit.

Rancho Cordova, CA
Rancho Cordova, CA

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center weighted metering mode, 26mm, ISO 200, 1/320 sec, f/4.5

Barbed Wire Fence, Dead Bird, Suspended.  Rancho Cordova, California. March 29, 2012. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.


10 thoughts on “Barbed Wire Fence, Dead Bird, Suspended

    1. It really is a sad subject. While I was definitely excited to capture such an odd and rare opportunity, I was also running through my head all the possibilities of the bird’s demise when shooting.


      1. I think one of the reasons this photograph works is that we are forced to wonder what happened to this bird. Also, rest of the photograph is comprised of large segments of grass and sky, making it feel quite benign. All of the straight lines give the feeling of order but the bird in their midst adds an element of vulnerability, making us fear that our order is illusory..


      2. From a composition standpoint, I had considered cropping the lower portion of the photograph, specifically the boxed wire fence portion. Maybe not all of it, but the lower part of it. That would have made it a mostly grey-blue sky with the bird, without much of the grass.

        I think I ended up leaving the photograph entirely intact with no cropping because I wanted to keep the lines, the boxy order…a sense of evenness of land, sky, and lines…only to be interrupted by this disconnect of a beautifully colored bird now ruffled and broken. It is an intentional scrambling of the viewers thoughts.


  1. As Spiral Dreamer and Steven mentioned above, a lot of animals – birds, mammals and reptiles — are entangled in barbed wire. In fact, there are programs in place to remove barbed wire across ranges around the country. Although I can’t see a closeup of this foot, the position of the bird suggests to me she was ensnared and unable to free herself. I’m a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator and have seen a lot of bird entanglement, unfortunately.


    1. A close-up of the bird’s foot shows that its held there right where the barb twist is. Couldn’t tell if that was the entanglement that caused it to struggle. Just a very strange thing to run across even though I live in the foothills where there are miles and miles of barbed wire.


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