East Wind Photography: I pretty much always shoot RAW and use Lightroom and Nik Define to control noise, if necessary. Of course we'd all prefer to limit noise in the first place, as noise-control can also reduce sharpness. With regards to DOF you appear to be saying that it's a personal choice, not unlike shooting landscape or portraits, and I should choose a look that suits the situation and my vision. Good advice. Thanks.
Packlight: No worries. Thanks for your detailed reply. Your point about not wanting the AF jumping around is well taken, I was just wondering (having just moved up from the T3i's 9 points to the 5D3's 61 points) if using all points simultaneously--in a shotgun approach--might not be the likeliest way to find focus fast--at least with a flock. But it appears that you and others are arguing that smaller defined focus areas actually improve one's chances of achieving accurate focus. Is that fair to say?
"Framing a single BIF is hard to hold in center. Cropping the picture is the norm. You have to think blurred bokeh background or partially identifiable background and know which you want." OK. Got it. This came to mind while shooting the second photo (flock of snow geese), admittedly not an individual bird. The geese pretty much covered a very large pond. The pond had only one tree at it's edge. And although it's autumn color was exhausted, it was about the only interesting feature anywhere near this body of water. So, I set up across the pond with the tree nicely framed. I then waited. Finally, a coyote appeared on the far shore and sent the geese skyward. I nailed the shot at f/8 thinking the tree and background mountains would turn out softer than they did. Regardless, I think these background features help the scene, as the rest of the pond's perimeter was rather bland.
Your points about knowing the animal's behavior and setting up well in advance with prior knowledge of best light, etc. is well taken. All good points. Of course, this past weekend may have been a bad example. First, I was just too enamored with my new 5D and the quantity and quality of wildlife to be thinking very clearly. Second, it was brief. Too brief. And lastly, this NWR is very tightly controlled, so visitors are only allowed to get so close to the critters and only in certain places, so there's no free access to areas that might serve as better vantage points or offer better lighting conditions.
Jackson Bill: Very cool shot! Regarding my "loose head," I only had an old Bogen tripod with a panning head, so after mounting my lens collar to it I left the various axes loose so I could move the camera around with the action. It was much steadier than hand-holding, but far from "locked in." This no doubt worked both for and against me, in what proportions I do not know. I also chose Evaluative Metering, but others here promote Spot Metering, hmm. I also exclusively used AI Servo, but mostly with zone AF, not point/expansion points. I'm still befuddled by the 1/4000 thing and appreciate you chiming in on your experience with far lower speeds being adequate with your 7D.