Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

When summer arrived in Virginia, so did the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds from Mexico or Central America, where they spend the winter. It is hard to imagine these tiny little birds flying such a distance with the most significant leg of their migration flying across the Gulf of Mexico. I maintain a hummingbird feeder behind the house that attracts them each year, entertains me with their amazing flying and aerial acrobatics, and provides me with the opportunity to photograph them. The images in the article were shot the last weekend of July.

If you live along the east coast of the United States and have seen hummingbirds, they were most likely Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, since they are the only hummingbird species that regularly live east of the Mississippi River. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds get their name from the bright red feathers on the front of their neck and upper breast. Males have a large patch of red feathers, called a gorget, on their throats, and females only have a very small red spot of feathers. The red is highly florescent, bright and glowing when lit by the sun or other direct light. At other times, these feathers appear black, as in the below image of this male hummingbird stretching his wings and puffing out his body feathers.

Hummingbirds are solitary birds, only socializing during breeding season. Males arrive first in the breeding area and establish their territory. When the females arrive, they attempt to attract them with a courtship display. After breeding, the males depart and the females care for the young. The female lays two white eggs, which take 12-14 days to hatch. Only the female feeds the young hummingbirds, which fledge when they are 22-25 days old.

Both the males and females are aggressive toward other hummingbirds, protecting their territory. There are three hummingbirds that regularly come to my feeder, two males and one female. They all appear to defend the feeder and fend off each other when they approach the feeder. It is entertaining watching them interact, buzzing around the feeder and through the nearby trees. At times, they are aggressive toward other birds in the trees, but only the small ones, like the American Goldfinches. Below is an image of a male goldfinch that I photographed in the tree behind the house.

In late summer and early fall hummingbirds fatten up, almost doubling their body weight, for the long migration south. This is critically important because, as part of their migration, they must fly across the Gulf of Mexico, which requires a 500-mile, non-stop flight over water.

Below are more of the images I recently took of the hummingbirds. In the first one below, a male hummingbird was cleaning his beak by rubbing it against a small branch.

Photographing hummingbirds in flight is very difficult because of their speed and zig-zagging around. However, I was able to capture below this hummingbird as it was about to land in a tree.



The above image was taken with a flash and Better Beamer, which extends the reach of the flash. The light from the flash illuminated the male hummingbird’s throat. Based on the expression on his face, he did not appear to like the sudden burst of light. The following two images were also taken with a flash.

The hummingbird images in this article were taken with a Nikon D700 camera, while my Nikon D800 was being repaired by Nikon for a focusing issue. I used a Nikon 600mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter. I have since welcomed home my D800 from Nikon, and it is operating perfectly.

About Stephen L Tabone

Retired Executive Consultant and Nature Photographer
This entry was posted in Bird Photographs, Nature and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

  1. I have never seen so many beautiful photographs of perching hummers. I totally enjoyed these! Thank you!

  2. very nice! Haven’t seen so many this year.

  3. Gorgeous photos of such an elusive little bird. I actually saw one last year feeding on some flowers, almost thought it was a large bug! You are so lucky to have these beautiful birds to entertain you. Love the close ups of them, such detail! You have amazing equipment!

  4. Kee says:

    The Hummingbird by Ruth White

    Savoring the last
    sweet bite of summer
    spent trailing
    the stopwatch,
    succulent flowers
    sip a hummingbird’s
    farewell dinner in flight,
    so it is, I stand,
    sap drawn
    from aged seasons wood pile,
    stalled kisses swell,
    sparkling as safely as
    yesterborn Autumn’s
    reminiscent embers.

    You did it again, Steve. Wonderfully crafted article with ever beautiful hummingbird pictures.
    So.. interesting to see the expression of the humming bird which got seemingly irritated by the sudden burst of light. You interacted with those tiny and busy birds so well.
    I found one Amateur Hummingbird Poem for you and your readers. Cheers!

  5. clover58 says:

    We have several ruby-throat hummingbirds coming to 2 feeders, and they are always on the defense against others ‘s trying to feed. They use so much energy just protecting the food source,that I wonder how they can get anything to eat for themselves! Beautiful captures on these; I cannot seem to coordinate to photo the hummingbirds very well.

  6. Really striking photos and wonderful narrative.

  7. All photos so, so beautiful! I especially love the goldfinch. I just discovered you blog and signed up for updates!

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