There are two extreme birds for me; the eagles and the hummingbirds. The later are very nimble and probably the most colorful, smallest, fastest and more aerobatic of of the feathered world. These little jewels are a wonder of nature and most difficult to catch in flight. Although their main food is the nectar of flowers, I have seen some snapping small flying insects. What is the color of a hummer? It depends in what they are doing and how they are illuminated. When flying one can see the whole color gamut as light is reflected from the tiny feathers. While at rest, the colors are more constant but still very iridescent.
They come in different body sizes and their bills in an array of lengths and curvatures, depending in what flowers they visit. As always, the boys are more beautiful than the girls. Have you ever tried to photograph a hummer flying? Unless they are hovering over a flower or feeder, it is a rare accomplishment. Hummer photography has become a very specialized field requiring lots of lights (almost as setting a portrait studio) with background cloths and flowers attached to a stand to which honey of sweetened water are added. And to make sure that a hummer is digitized, arrays of infrared beams are installed to ascertain that the camera fires when the beams are broken. Some photographers go to the extreme of catching the small birds and putting them inside light boxes. Although magnificent images are obtained, they just don't look natural. I rather take their pictures with just a camera and one or two flashes set to high speed synchronization. Most of the time I just use one flash mounted in the camera shoe when there are no shades and the day is sunny. When in the shade, I set up the second flash as a slave to one side of the feeder about 3 feet off the ground.
There is no way to get photos of these birds unless they are habituated to come to feeders. These are most often maintained at the various eco-tourism centers. I go where the feeders are and set up the camera and flashes, get a seat and just wait. Hummers do not seem to mind people. They come in waves with periods of inactivity in between. These jewels are very noisy and fight with each other very aggressively, often crashing into each other in midair without major damage. It is frustrating at times when a hummer just perches in a branch one or two feet away and I can't photograph them since they are so close. I get better results with the camera drive mode set to continuous shooting and shoot as much as I can. I get more sharper photos with the camera set up to fixed distance and shoot as much as I can; auto focus is too slow for these feathered helicopters. These birds are so fast that less than 5% of the images obtained are keepers. I hand hold the camera/lens and follow the action shooting at apertures between 4 and 8 at ISO 400. Still photos are a steal as the one here.
Where to go to get these flying jewels in the States? The East Coast in not the place since the Ruby-throated hummer is the only one in this area. The SW of the United States is probably the best location to photograph them. But Latin and South America will reward you with a large number of species all year round. Give them a try!
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