Taking Great Hummingbird Pictures
Wildlife photographer shares his secrets to nature photography and taking great hummingbird pictures.
Hummingbirds are some of the most entertaining, enjoyable and easy birds to photograph. Yes, I really did say “easy.” Even though they’re tiny and move at lightning-fast speed, all it takes is a little planning to capture memorable hummingbird photos.
Now, this hasn’t always been my mantra. I’ve been a wildlife photographer for years, and I used to have a horrible time trying to attract hummingbirds. In fact, I probably spent more than 10 years trying all the textbook advice, with no success.
I planted bee balm, cardinal flower and every other red bloom at my garden center, but the only action at my sugar-water feeders was from ants and bees. Like many people, I just assumed there weren’t hummingbirds in my area. I was ready to give up altogether, but then I finally had a breakthrough.
Trying Something Different
In all my studying, I learned that the most important part of attracting hummingbirds is providing them with a reliable source of food. I had tried this before, offering a combination of flowers and feeders, but it never worked. So what was I doing wrong? With a little more research, I discovered that ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate through my area from around mid-April through mid-May. Then it occurred to me—I have almost no flowers in April! And the few that I do have aren’t on the list of hummingbird favorites.
As it turns out, many hummingbirds migrate to their breeding grounds before most flowers are in bloom, so the birds rely
on insects, sap and other food sources. I decided it was time to try something different.
The following April, I went to my garden center and bought two hanging baskets—one with small red and yellow petunias and the other with lantana, which I had to take in at night if frost was expected. At the same time, I also put out two feeders filled with sugar water.
Within just a few short days, a male hummingbird claimed the feeders and the flowers as his own. A week or two later, I saw his mate. It was an instant success—as long as you don’t count my previous 10 years without a single hummer!
Now, years later, I’ve been enticing hummingbirds each spring using this same method. In addition to setting out feeders, I plant or pot a variety of flowers to ensure that something bright will be blooming from April through September.
A Window of Opportunity
If you, too, want visits from these tiny charmers, remember that planning and patience are key. Birds in spring tend to be in a hurry to get to their breeding grounds, so unless you’re lucky, they might not stay long.
The southbound migration that begins in early August and ends in mid-September is a much more leisurely journey. Even on the East Coast, where there are fewer hummers than out West, I often see a dozen or more ruby-throated hummingbirds on an August day, and I may take more than a thousand photos in a single afternoon.
Now it’s time to get to work! With a few of my secrets, you can take your own hummingbird photos that will impress your family and make your friends envious. When they ask how you got such terrific photos, just smile and tell them that you planned months in advance, because you did!
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