The first time I ever really took notice of hummingbirds was when I was married and still living in Seattle some 17 years ago. My then-husband was looking for some recreational property and we took a boat ride with a real estate agent (who seriously believed he had the power to read minds and make people do what he wished…..) out to an island off of Anacortes. We were investigating a beautiful log house under construction at the top of a hill (while trying to keep our distance from the nutty agent), and I was looking out the huge then-glassless picture window. All of a sudden, I heard a loud buzzing noise which I attributed to a large bumble bee I couldn’t see. Like magic (practically scaring me out of my wits), this little creature with loudly humming wings zipped up and hovered a few inches from my face before just as quickly disappearing, leaving me enchanted.
Now that I live in Southeast Texas, I actually have greater access to these busy little creatures….in September (I’ve since learned they come across my area in the spring too, but I’ve never really noticed them before except during September). SE Texas is a sort of “stopover” for the Ruby-Throated hummingbird on their migratory trek from the far north of Canada down into South America.
By September, they are hungry, their energy reserves rapidly depleted but with still a very long way to travel. So my parents would set out two to five feeders filled with nectar (do NOT use honey and do NOT use food coloring). Anywhere from one to 19 birds would flock around the feeders’ flower-shaped feeding funnels.
I learned then just how territorial these little guys are. Often they would spend more time chasing away interlopers than actually stopping to sip from the straw.
Getting a great photo of these teeny little birdies is quite the trick sometimes, unless you are very patient and have lots of time to stand around or sit nearby a feeder. Hummers are skittish, but because they soooo want that sweet stuff in the feeders, they get over their shyness pretty quickly and will ignore you if you don’t move around much.
What I discovered during my various hummingbird photo shoots is that my two best friends are a telephoto lens you can handhold, and a flash. I’ve tried the tripod route, with some small measure of success, but handholding a lens with image stabilization allowed for a greater number of good photos. For me, a flash was necessary to stop the wing action and get a clear shot under normally shadowed circumstances, since my images were usually captured in the morning hours (one of the few times I actually like using a flash). Oh, and it goes without saying that fast shutter speeds are quite helpful – especially if you aren’t using a flash.
The images in this post were taken between 2006 and 2009. I didn’t take any photos during 2010 or 2011 (Dad died in 2010 and neither Mom nor I thought to set out any feeders in 2011). I’ll try to remedy that this year. One thing to remember if you are going to set out feeders yourself: change the sugar solution often (if it hasn’t been emptied out by hungry hummers, that is). The solution has a tendancy to go sour pretty quickly, which can make the little guys sick. Nobody wants that!
So read up on hummingbirds, look at other photographers’ images, find out the best places in your area to see these cuties, and have some photographic fun with them!