Posts tagged ‘Ruby-throated Hummingbird’

60 Hummers at my one feeder?!

Early August 2020, Carlton County, Minnesota

Estimating numbers of birds coming to your feeder is, of course, an inexact science. But we all know that there are FAR MORE BIRDS using your feeders than you see at anyone time.

The max I saw at my one Carlton County feeder at one time in early August was 9….and they were going through a quart every 48 hours. So by using the two methods below, I was likely hosting between 54 and 64 Rubythroats each day!

TWO METHODS for calculating hummingbirds at a feeder have been derived by hummer experts:

1. Multiply max number you see at one time by 6: This formula was arrived at by banders Nancy Newfield and Bob & Martha Sargent who arrived at this numerical factor after years of banding and color-marking hummers at feeders. Using this formula, I was feeding 54 hummers on any give day in early August.

2. Divide hummingbird nectar ounces consumed per day by 0.25: This “Consumption formula” was devised by North America’s preeminent hummingbird authority, Sheri Williamson, based on years of experience. Sheri arrived at 1/4 oz. per small hummer per day. I was going through 32 ounces in two days, so 16 ounces per day. That calculates to 64 hummers were using my single feeder each day. Crazy!

I have put Sheri’s actual blog post below: “Studies of field metabolic rates (the average rate at which an organism consumes energy as it goes about its daily life) indicate that small hummingbirds such as Black-chinned and Ruby-throated are going to need 45% to 50% of their body weight in sucrose (a.k.a. white sugar, the dominant sugar in the nectar of hummingbird flowers) to get through an ordinary day, so they would actually need 180% to 200% of their weight in a 25% sucrose solution.

A 25% solution is much stronger than most people use in their feeders. The generally recommended proportion is 1 part table sugar to 4 parts water by volume, which comes out to about 18% sugar by weight. Converting to this recipe, it would take approximately 250% to 280% of the bird’s weight in ordinary 1:4 feeder solution to meet each bird’s daily energy requirements.

So, how do you use these data to estimate numbers of feeder visitors? The simplest way is to convert grams to fluid ounces so that you can measure the volume consumed (you can even mark your feeder and estimate usage on the fly).

According to my postal scale, one fluid ounce of 1:4 sugar water weighs about 35.5 grams (approximately 20% more than its plain water counterpart). We’ll average the weight of the birds to 3.5 grams, or about 10% of the weight of a fluid ounce. Multiply that times by 265% for average consumption and we get 0.265 fluid ounce of 1:4 feeder solution per bird per day, which we’ll round down to 1/4 fluid ounce per bird per day. This multiplies out to around 32 smallish hummingbirds per 8 ounces of 1:4 sugar water, 128 per quart, and 512 per gallon. This is higher than the TFFBBB estimate, which is not surprising considering the differences between our figures for weight and consumption rates of the birds and weight/volume ratio of the sugar solution.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that can skew this already crude estimate. The amount of sugar water each bird consumes may be greatly reduced when natural nectar sources are available and greatly increased when the birds are under stress from cold, drought, courtship, fighting, nesting, and/or migration. A given volume will supply the needs of more birds if you make your feeder solution a little stronger than 1:4, as many people (myself included) do in winter and migration, and fewer if you make it a little weaker. Size figures in as well, so a given volume of sugar water will feed fewer Anna’s than Black-chinneds.”

—Sheri Williamson on her blog, Life, Birds, and Everything: Jan. 12, 2008

Hummingbird Hijinx: How to get awesome hummer/native plant images

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Turk’s-cap Lily, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota (i.e. my “backyard”)

The whole family has had a blast watching the Ruby-throated Hummingbird antics at our backyard feeder this summer. We’ve had up to 4 around the feeder at once. Though there are six feeding holes in the dispenser, they seem unable to feed peaceably next to each other. Fights are non-stop. For a while we had the “bully,” a male who sat like a king on his throne on the hanging bracket and chased away any nearby hummer…even when he wasn’t interested in feeding. The last few summers we’ve had the feeder out by the garden, but moving it to the “backyard” was the best move we could have made. Our large picture windows allowed great viewing and also helped remind us when the sugar-water mix was low or out. We used to forget about it when it was by the garden and let it run dry much to the hummers chagrin.

Here is an example of a flash image that I don’t like as much as the non-flash image below. (Liatris bloom)
And this is why you keep your finger on the shutter even after your flash fires. Sometimes you like the non-flash image! Though only shot at a relatively slow 1/250 of a second, the hummer’s head is sharp, which proves that though hovering with wings beating at 55-70 times per second, their head is absolutely still. Amazing! This might be my favorite from “the summer of the hummer.”

My first goal was to get some photos of Ruby-throats feeding on native flowers…A very difficult shot in the wild. Why is this type of image tough to capture? Because in the wild, you can’t control the situation. If you plant yourself near some highly desirable hummingbird flowers (Liatris, Monarda, Milkweed, etc) you never know when one might show up, and then it will be cautious of that weird large human with the “bazooka” pointing at it. On the other hand, if you stumble upon a feeding hummer, it is highly unlikely that you’ll have time to focus, position the flash, get the correct exposure and fire off a shot before the hummer moves on, as they normally quickly move from flower to flower.

plampThe native plant/clamp hummingbird set up.
A female comes in to an irresistable Morning-Glory bloom.
Here’s where the hummer’s long bill and tongue really come in handy; deep corolla flowers like Morning-Glory “hide” their nectar deep inside.

To get clean hummingbird images, you need to control the situation. First I gathered a native and photogenic flower and put it in water so it wouldn’t wilt. I then set up my camera on a tripod about 25 feet from the feeder. You have to judge the distance for yourself and what lens you are using, but you want enough room surrounding the flower to allow for the body of the hummer. You don’t want to be so tight that you clip part of the bird. Err on the side of too much space around the flower as you can always crop later. I attached my flash and to that attached a Better Beamer (a flash attachment that uses a fresnel lens to concentrate the beam of your flash so it projects further).

Now, I took the native flower and attached it to the bracket that the feeder was hanging on. I used a regular clamp this time but often use the “plamp” (plant clamp) from Wimberley to do this. One end has a beefy clamp that can attach to tree branches, a tripod leg, or in this case, the hanging bracket. You can then twist and bend the plamp into any position you need. The flower end of the plamp has a swiveling low tension clamp so you can fine tune the flower’s position.

Quickly test your set up. Position your tripod so that you will be shooting exactly perpendicular to the feeding hummingbird (if this is the shot you want). This is possible with Morning-Glory but not with Liatris where they can feed on all sides of the flower. Also look for the best background for your images. You don’t want distracting branches, blown out sky, ugly browns in your background. This is a VERY important step that can make or break a photo. Since I am in a very wooded spot, I am especially worried about “hot” branches, branches lit up by the sun that cause very distracting light lines,blobs in the final photo. What I do look for are nicely lit, even green foliage that I know will blur into a smooth green background.

I pre-focus on the spot where I want the hummingbird and then turn off the auto focus on the lens. This way I don’t have to be looking through the camera when I’m shooting. I just watch and press the shutter when I think the hummer is in position. Now quickly fire off a few test shots. Exposure is always a compromise between shutter speed and aperture. You want a relatively shallow depth-of-field (DOF) to get out-of-focus backgrounds BUT you also want enough DOF so both hummer and flower are in focus. A delicate balancing act for sure. Most are shot at f5.6 to f6.3. For the majority of these images I used high-speed sync for my flash, shooting at 1/1000 of a second (all but the Liatris images). But I don’t think I’d do this again. I like some blur in my hummingbird wings…It adds some drama, reality, motion into the image…And even 1/1000 doesn’t come close to freezing them…And high-speed sync seems to take more effort from your flash so it doesn’t recycle as quickly as when shooting at its regular 1/250 sync speed.

The final key to this operation is to cover the hummingbird feeder completely with a towel. You can also remove the feeder if you like but I found this just an extra unnecessary step. Now plant yourself next to your camera and get ready…finger on the shutter button. Because if you have an active feeding station it won’t take long for the first hummer to come zinging in. He/she will seem confused at first, trying to get at the covered feeder, but then it will see the showy flower you provided conveniently at hummer-head height, and think to itself, “Why not? It’s here, it has nectar, might as well try it” and that is when you start firing off shots as fast as your flash will recycle. But actually I just keep shooting because even non-flash images in a sequence can be beautiful.

This set-up really works well on established hummingbird feeders…but only for a few minutes…until all the local hummers have been fooled and tried your flower and used up the nectar. So I immediately take down the flower and uncover the feeder after my photo session…Usually less than half an hour. You don’t want to frustrate your guests too much so they go over to your neighbor’s feeder!

My big failure for the summer was NEVER getting a male to feed on “my flower”…I think all the images here would be enhanced with the male’s iridescent throat feathers shining like a ruby in the sunlight/flash burst. Oh well, there’s always next summer!

**[All images take with Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and 430EX flash with Better Beamer attached. Tripod. Most at f5.6 or 6.3 at ISO 200 to 400, 1/250 to 1/1000]