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.