Photo by Lianne Atwood

How to attract and photograph hummingbirds

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Attracting hummingbirds

Starting mid-April, ruby-throated hummingbirds will start reappearing in Ontario. Each spring these little birds that weigh less than a nickel make an amazing journey from Florida and Central America, including an 800-km jaunt across the Gulf of Mexico on their way up to Ontario and most of Eastern Canada.

Hummingbirds are a delight to watch. Add a hummingbird feeder to your porch, then just need sit quietly and wait for the telltale hum as the birds come to feed. You can also make your yard an attractive feeding ground by planting certain flowers, such as azaleas, columbine, morning glory, and trumpet creeper. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are most attracted to red flowers, which is why most hummingbirds feeders you find are red. The colour of the nectar doesn’t matter, but make sure you use a formula or recipe specifically for hummingbirds. The little guys burn through a lot of calories flapping their wings 50-60 times a second, so it’s important that they have a high-energy food source.

Photographing hummingbirds

Capturing that perfect hummingbird shot is a challenge for most photographers. The wings move so fast that most shots are just a blur of wings with bird body in the middle. It’s nearly impossible to get a completely clear shot of the wings, but here are a few tips for getting the best shot of your buzzing buddies.

  • Set your camera to its fastest shutter speed. Most digital cameras, even some low-end point-and-shoots, give you some control over the settings. Try to set the shutter speed to 1/1000 seconds or faster. If you have a DSLR and haven’t played around with the manual settings, see how changing the shutter speed and aperture affects your shot.
  • Try using an external flash if you have one. If you can get a hummingbird in a dark setting, such as in a dark, shady area or after dusk, you may be able to freeze the wings in your shot by using an external flash on its fastest setting. Unfortunately, you’re less likely to see a hummingbird after dark, which makes getting these shots even more difficult.
  • If you’ve planted flowers to attract hummingbirds, see which ones the birds go to the most and set up your gear nearby.
  • Get comfortable. Your best tactic is to take a lot of photos, and since hummingbirds can be, well, flighty, it might take some time. A tripod and poised shutter-finger might be a good idea so you don’t spook the birds when you lift your camera up to snap your photo.