Friday, July 22, 2011


"How'd you get that shot?" That's a question I frequently hear. Certainly having a high-end camera that knocks off 4-8 frames per second in low light at close range makes a difference. But that's only part of it. It helps to know and understand your subject. I have been feeding and observing hummingbirds for several years. I know when I am more likely to see them (early morning and late evening year-round, more frequently during the day in spring and summer). I have a hummer-centric yard with a variety of flowers hummingbirds like.

We have two kinds of hummingbird in western Washington. Rufous - the photographs today are of a female rufous - arrive in mid-to-late March and head south in late September, sometimes early October. Anna's hummingbirds look a little like the ruby-throats in the eastern United States. We rarely have nighttime temperatures below freezing. When we do, I bring the feeders inside at night. The birds often greet me when I bring the feeders out. We have mild winters, subtropical plants that bloom in winter, and insects. People are surprised to learn that 75 percent of a hummingbird's diet is insects.

Hummingbirds are very territorial. I hang more than one feeder and hide one from the other with flower baskets.  And I keep feeders up year-round because Anna's hummingbirds don't migrate. Hummers don't need that packaged food with red food coloring. Feeders have enough red to attract them. I mix one cup white sugar (not honey!) with four cups of water. I bring it to a boil, then cool. I have enough for two batches for two feeders. I change food about once a week in winter and every 3-4 days in summer. It's important to keep the feeders clean because there are molds and diseases that grow in dirty feeders.

I have been photographing hummingbirds regularly for about four years. Sometimes I will shoot 10 images and half will be really good. Other times I will shoot 50 images and get three decent shots. You have to be patient. For the images here, I was less than three feet away inside my kitchen. I make sure the window is clean and I keep a dark-colored dish towel next to the sink to cover the faucet which causes a glare on the window. I keep the camera close by when I'm making something in the kitchen. And sometimes just watch out the window for 10-15 minutes.

Visit my Hummer gallery for favorites.

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