Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

I love growing plants in my garden to attract hummers. And throughout the year I note the locations of plants favored by hummers, and head out with my camera when the weather is good, and the spring and fall migrations are in progress.

Ruby Throated Hummer range map
Map courtesy of AllAboutBirds.org

The migrations peak in the Houston area in May and October. And the Houston area has the good fortune to be in overlapping breeding and migration areas for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, so they are not just passing through in the spring, they’re raising families.

Some reliable food plants are Bottle Brush (the full-sized tree variety, since hummers don’t seem interested in the dwarf varieties), Scarlet Firecracker Fern, tall varieties of Salvia, and Turk’s Cap.

My backyard garden design paid off, and early this spring I was lucky enough to have both adult and juvenile hummers visit my back yard! The “Ember’s Wish” Salvia started blooming in April, and hummers appeared in May.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Salvia, in May
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR on tripod with ball head
1/3200 f/5.6 ISO 1000 at 500mm
(Remember, you can click to enlarge.)

The Salvia bloomed May through July, and the hummers enjoyed it, returning before dawn, after dusk, and throughout the day, in drizzle and in sunshine.

It’s difficult to judge scale in these photos. Just look at this little guy with his head buried in a Salvia blossom. I’m assuming this is a male. Males are smaller than females, and his chin looks darker than the creamy speckled chin of the female. At some angles of light, the ruby red feathers on the male’s chin look dark gray or black. Bird identification is a challenge!

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird diving into Salvia blossom, in May
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR on tripod with ball head
1/3200 f/5.6 ISO 1000 at 500mm

This spring visit just whetted my appetite. Through the summer, I looked for publicly accessible Bottle Brush trees. My search was rewarded when I visited the new Hat Creek Burger Company on South Mason Road. They had planted bottle brush trees right by the side entrance! I returned early on a Sunday morning and received permission to set up my tripod on the sidewalk outside the door. Wow! Hummers buzzed around, and seemed oblivious to the occasional customer walking by and opening the door.

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Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Bottle Brush, in September
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR on tripod with gimbal head
1/5000 f/5.6 ISO 3200 at 500mm

According to Jon and Shani Friedman of Wild Birds Online, hummingbirds don’t eat comparatively large insects like honey bees, but will chase them away from food sources. This bird is eyeing a bee that she later charged with bill open (I could have sworn that she ate the bee, but perhaps not). The Friedmans point out that hummingbirds do eat a large number of small insects, and recommend placing a rotting banana in the yard to attract fruit flies, thereby attracting the hummers. I will have to try this!

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Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird threatening a honey bee, in October
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR on tripod with gimbal head
1/5000 f5.6 ISO 2500 at 500mm

The Fullbrook Commons is a small open space in the Fulbrook development west of Fulshear, just south of FM 1093. The Commons is designed for birds with plantings, trees and bird houses spotted gracefully about. I drove around the little teardrop, parked my car, and set up my tripod next to a garden bed full of Turk’s Cap. No sooner had I stopped fiddling with my camera than two hummers raced past my shoulders, one in hot pursuit of the other, chittering like crazy. I watched as they darted between the flowers. One would chase the other away and return to get a quick sip before she herself was chased away. These are territorial birds!

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Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, in October
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR on tripod with gimbal head
1/3200 f/5.6 ISO 2000 at 500mm

North American hummers hover by beating their wings approximately 50 beats per second, but they also give strong downward thrusts with their tail to help keep their little bodies in the air. This one has her back arched and tail up just prior to her downward push.

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Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird above Turk’s cap, in October
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR on tripod with gimbal head
1/3200 f/5.6 ISO 2000 at 500mm

You might have noticed a distinct improvement in the sharpness and focus between the spring and fall shots in this series. In July, I bought a new gimbal head for my tripod. There are more details on my “Gear” post (coming soon), but suffice it to say that I’m thrilled with it!

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