kathyreeves.com: Tips & Articles

Complete Guide to Photographing Hummingbirds Part 1

by Kathy Reeves

Contest Winning Photo

This does take time and a commitment. I start out in the very early spring and do some research on the web for plants that attract hummingbirds. Their favorites in my area (South Louisiana) are cigar plants and saliva. Both are easy to grow, last all season, come up every year and are easy to propagate with cuttings. But I do get a variety of different plants, red and purple work best. Find a local nursery in your area that has a hummingbird/butterfly section for what grows best in your area. Get plenty of plants, hummingbirds must feed several times and hour. Never use pesticides as these will kill your birds and butterflies. If you have a small pest problem spray a mixture of detergent and water on the pests, but be aware this will also kill butterfly caterpillars, so do not use on host plants. If you have a bad problem, get rid of the plant. I do plant them in my garden, but mostly in pots and hanging baskets on my patio. That way they can be moved around for better photography angles. Hummingbirds must feed 3-5 times per hour to provide enough energy to keep going. Once they have chosen your garden to nest in, they may become completely reliant on your garden for their source of food. You also need to provide fresh water, trees for nesting, sunny and shady spots for perching.

Hummingbird Chatter
Hummingbird Chatter

Also get several hummingbird feeders. I get mine at Wal-Mart they are cheap and they usually have them available. Get a few extra ones. Look for hummingbird feeders that have perches and come apart for easy cleaning. (see photo 3 below) You can get commercially prepared hummingbird food or make it yourself using 4 parts water to 1 part sugar, never weaken this mixture or use honey or food coloring. I have found there are several prepared mixes they do not like but they always like the sugar water and it is less expensive. Hummingbird nectar goes bad in a couple of days so change it often. Clean your hummingbird feeders with bleach and water not detergent. Use a small brush to remove dirt and mold. Soak your feeder in water with bleach (about 15-30minutes) then rinse thoroughly. Hummingbirds do not like the taste of detergent but, bleach will kill any mold (deadly to hummingbirds) and the sugar in the nectar will neutralize the bleach taste. I have a bee keeper down the street and bees are always a problem. Keep the nectar from spilling on the outside of the feeder and look for feeders where the nectar has a deep well that hummingbirds long beak and tongue can reach, but bees cannot. See the photo for and ideal feeder. If you have a real problem with bees, try coating the outside of the feeder with Vaseline, being sure to avoid the perches and drinking holes.

Hang your feeders, and at least some plants, high as you can so the birds can drink without fear of neighborhood cats. I like to hang my feeders over hanging baskets that give some protection to the hummer from predators below. Space the feeders and plants as far apart as possible to prevent one bird from “guarding" all of your feeders at once. They are very territorial and will try to prevent other hummers from feeding. This is one of the reasons you need multiple plants and feeders for them to feed. Try to hang at least one feeder under an eave to protect the nectar from getting watered down during rain. If you live in a hurricane area leave your feeders up during the storm. Your bird still need nourishment and they will continue to go to the feed during the worst storms. Make sure the hooks are secure so the feeder does not blow down. Hummingbirds are notorious for flying into windows and getting seriously hurt or killed. Protect your birds by taping a piece of paper (letter size) on the outside of all your windows. Try to have all of this ready for the spring/fall migration.
Here is a link to a hummingbird migration map: http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html

Now that you are thoroughly prepared for your hummingbirds you need to “advertise”. Hummingbirds are looking for places to feed and raise a family or just a stopover to feed and rest on their migration. Help them find you by hang red on your patio or garden. I use red t-shirts, Christmas bows and anything else I can find red. Put your red on patio chairs and tables, hang and drape them next to your plants. Make sure to put them were they can be seen from the air. Soon you will have lots of hummingbirds to photograph. The more you have the easier it will be. There will be many more humming birds during migration in the spring and fall that the rest of the year. During peak migration I get up to 10 birds per feeder at a time.

See Part 2 of The Complete Guide to Photographing Hummingbirds