The male Ruby-throated hummingbird seen on my website holds a big chunk of my heart. He has migrated to our holiday home in Vermont every year for the past five years, always arriving, believe it or not, on the same day every year - May 10th. When I first saw this little fellow zipping about our garden in 2010, I knew I could only name him one name – Mr. Zippy!
Fiercely territorial and tenacious, confidence and charm oozes from his tiny little body. Watching this little guy ‘maintain’ his territory in our garden provides us with constant entertainment. When he is not visiting flowers, zipping in and out of the hose stream to take a bath or sunbathing on our deck, he is fending off intruders. A large magority of his day is spent chasing bumble bees. Zippy cannot stand it when anyone else visits his flowers. As our entire garden has been created for him and his lady friends, he has an awful lot of patrolling and defending to do! Unfortunately for Mr. Zippy, weighing in at less than 3 grams, no one takes him very seriously. Once I even watched a butterfly chase him all the way across our lawn. (Quite embarrassing).
Hummingbirds depend on nectar for their survival. Nectar is essentially sugar. Imagine living on a diet of sugar? No wonder they are so hyper! To gather nectar, each busy little hummer will visit more than 2000 flowers a day. The carbohydrate rich nectar they consume gives them the energy they need for their active, quick little lives.
Fortunately for hummingbirds, it is not just me who adores them. People across the US erect Hummingbird feeders (sugar water) in their gardens and this gives hummers an additional energy boost. Hummingbirds, especially mums feeding chicks, will also eat insects, catching pesky mosquitos and midges in the air.
An Epic Journey
Ruby-throated hummingbirds summering in New England will return to their winter abodes between October and November every year. Many return to Central America. To get there they cross the 800 km wide Gulf of Mexico. This incredible journey takes them about 20 hours; Each tiny hummingbird will do this without stopping or feeding once as obviously there are no resting places or flowers along the way. This is quite a remarkable feat.
Photographing Hummingbirds - Blurred wings?
In all of the photographs I have taken of humming birds in flight I am sure you have noticed that the wings of these little gems are blurred. The reason they are blurred is because those tiny wings are beating between 50 and 200 times a second depending on what the hummingbird is doing (hovering, arriving, departing, chasing etc). To freeze the motion of the wings I would need a shutter speed of around 1/5000 – and this is generally not feasible. If you see images of hummingbirds where the wings are sharp and in focus, the photographer has used an external flash – not the flash you ‘pop’ up on your camera – an external flash.
External flashes are an entire different game and I have chosen to not move in that direction right now. As a general rule for wildlife photography, the animal’s eye should be in focus or ‘sharp.’ The many hours I spend trying to photograph hummingbirds generally results in unsharp images. They are so quick that even though my camera takes 7 frames a second – sometimes I still do not even manage to get one part of a hummer in the frame. I wish I could include all of my failed images of hummingbirds on my website – or in an entire Hummingbird photography Failure gallery, but it would need to include thousands of missed images. When I manage to get an image with the eyes in focus, I am one happy lady! I actually think the blurred wings are more natural – when you watch a hummingbird in flight, you can’t even see the wings – just blur.
Numerous documents have been created by professionals on ‘How to photograph hummingbirds.’ I of course read these articles as I want to learn as much as I can, but they sure can be off-putting. Lots of successful photographers turn their gardens into a mini studio with lights and backdrops. I enjoy trying to photograph our hummingbirds in our garden in a natural setting – the garden. I have no intention of turning my garden into a photography studio with fake backdrops and external flashes. I’m sure Mr. Zippy would be most upset if I did this! I hope you enjoy viewing my images of Mr. Zippy and is friends!