Hummingbirds of the Southwest
Photographing hummingbirds is a challenging and very frustrating experience. They seem to be constantly in motion, move very quickly from one hover position to another and never stay in a hover for more than one second. By the time that you see one and bring the camera up to focus, the hummer has moved on. One approach that I found successful was to position myself near a set of frequently visited flowers with my camera in a ready position, and wait. When they arrive to extract the nectar from the flower, they will hover just long enough to allow a few rapid shots. Bird feeders also work well as a reliable source of visits. Shutter speeds of over 1/2000 second are usually required to get a decent shot, and even at that speed the wings will blur.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson is a world-renowned zoo, museum and botanical garden. It is also a marvelous place to see and photograph hummingbirds. The aviary there has about 12 birds of 6-7 different species, including several nests at this time of the year. You can walk freely thru the aviary while hummers are buzzing about, zooming every which way and easily avoiding the slow moving (relatively speaking) visitors.
I visited the museum this spring over a three-day period trying to photograph these amazing birds. It took thousands of images to finally capture a few in sharp focus, good position and with iridescent colors glowing. It’s a challenging and frustrating adventure, but very rewarding when that one stunning image is realized. Judge for yourself.
A broad-billed hummingbird is hovering and extracting nectar from a fairy dust flower. While hovering, they vibrate their wings at about 50 times per second and go as high as 200 times a second during courtship display dives.
A Rufous hummingbird is resting between feeding forays. A Rufous migrates the furthest of any hummer, traveling 2000 miles from Mexico to Alaska. Hummers are high-energy dynamos. However, they cannot consume enough food to keep zooming about in high gear all day long. Because they expend so much energy in feeding and defending turf, a hummer actually spends most of its time (about 75%-80%) sitting quietly on a branch, resting. This is an excellent time to photograph one and with luck capture the iridescent colors on its crown, throat and neck.
While humming birds appear to have beautiful colors, they actually possess shades of brown, and black pigment. Tiny prism-like structures in the feathers refract and reflect light to create the iridescent colors that we see on hummingbird’s throats, backs and crowns.
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can hover for extended period of time. They can fly backwards, straight up, straight down, sideways, and even do somersaults. To achieve these gyrations, they have powerful breast muscles comprising 30% or their body weight and have the largest heart relative to their body size of any animal.
Hummingbirds need to eat every 10 to 15 minutes or 60 times/day. With only a small amount of nectar available from each flower, a hummer may visit up to 2000 flowers in a day.
The female builds the nest, lays 2 bean-sized eggs, and raises the young by herself. The eggs hatch in about 2-3 weeks. The mother feeds them by inserting her bill into their throats and regurgitating a meal of insects and nectar. The babies grow rapidly and leave the nest in about 3 weeks.
I had heard that the Madera Canyon, south of Tucson, was home to several hummingbirds not found at the Desert Museum, including the blue-throated hummingbird. I drove to the canyon not knowing exactly where to find this tiny bird. It is a big recreation area with a few B and B’s. Fortunately many of the B and B’s have hummingbird feeders hanging out in front near the road. I followed a small group of people who seemed to be on the same mission as I was, and sure enough there was a feeder busy with hummers. A blue-throated hummingbird hovered right in front of me at the feeder for a second or two. It wasn’t enough time to get the shot I had hoped for , but it was enough time to get this one:
more hummingbird images can be seen on my website:
|“Rufous Resting” – A Rufous hummingbird is resting between feeding forays. A rufous migrates the furtherest of any hummer, traveling 2000 miles from Mexico to Alaska.|
~ by richardseeley on May 15, 2010.
Posted in Photo Adventures
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