Hummingbirds are some of the most intriguing birds in the Western Hemisphere, but they're so tiny and move so quickly – how can you get a good close look? Getting good looks at hummingbirds is critical for proper identification and appreciating the very fine details of these delicate birds, and it's not as difficult as many birders believe to see hummingbirds up close and personal.
Equipment for Viewing Hummingbirds
Having the proper equipment is essential to see the fine details and amazing colors of hummingbirds. Birding binoculars should have 7-8 times magnification; optics with a magnification up to 10 can be useful, but the higher the magnification, the steadier they must be held to minimize shaking that can be accentuated at higher magnifications. A spotting scope can be useful for seeing hummingbirds up close if it can be focused on a perch or favored feeding area, because these territorial birds often return to the same spot repeatedly, which can provide predictable and excellent views.
Where to See Hummingbirds Up Close
Visiting the proper hummingbird habitats is the best way to find these birds for exceptional views. Hummingbirds can be found in a wide range of habitats, from forests to meadows to deserts, and birders who understand which hummingbirds are found where can more easily position themselves for the best views.
Of course, some of the best hummingbird viewing can be done right in the backyard. Setting up a hummingbird feeding station with an unobstructed view can lead to exceptional looks at these tiny birds, and adding hummingbird flowers and open perches is another way to ensure these birds can be easily seen.
Bringing Hummingbirds Even Closer
Defining "close" for a hummingbird is a lot different than a close view of a duck or raptor. Large birds can be easily seen when they may still be dozens of feet away, but hummingbirds are so tiny (many hummingbird species are less than five inches long) that they need to be much closer for a detailed view. Ideally, seeing hummingbirds from just a few feet away will offer the best views. The best distance is often 8-12 feet away, which is within the minimum focusing distance of good binoculars. This allows the birds to be close but also still be seen through binoculars, bringing them even closer.
Birders who want to bring hummingbirds closer for a better view can try several tactics, including:
- Attracting hummingbirds with reliable, fresh, nutritious food sources, including pesticide-free yards, appropriate hummingbird nectar feeders, nectar-rich flowers and other foods for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds have excellent geographic memories and will easily remember where food is available, returning to the same feeding areas year after year.
- Positioning hummingbird feeders very close to a window, or opting for feeders that can attach directly to a window, such as the Window Watch Feeder or the Window Mount Feeder. Whenever feeders are near windows, however, it is important to take steps to prevent bird window collisions – even an impact that may seem gentle can be fatal to a bird as small as a hummingbird.
- Trimming hummingbird flowerbeds to remove blooms, stems, branches or leaves that may be obstructing views from different angles. Removing additional blooms from the backs of plants can also encourage hummingbirds to visit flowers in the front that offer the best views.
- Learning how to photograph hummingbirds with good camera equipment that will allow zoom views. This can allow excellent views of hummingbirds without needing to get as physically close to the birds. A high optical zoom and fast shutter speed are the best technical features of a camera needed for photographing hummingbirds.
Using Your Views
Once you have good, close views of hummingbirds, what do you do with those views? For many birders, the point of getting good views of hummingbirds is to facilitate identification. Learning how to identify hummingbirds means noting many tiny details of these already tiny birds, including their overall colors in different types of light, whether tail tips have white dots, bill shapes, gorget shapes and tail motions while flying and feeding. A good view can help you be more confident with your hummingbird identification, and what's more, close, intimate views can show you amazing hummingbird details, behaviors and actions that would be impossible to see at a greater distance. Licking tongues, delicate blinks and gorget feather structure can all be revealed from close, detailed hummingbird views.
Hummingbirds are charming and intriguing, and by getting better, closer views of these birds, it is possible to learn even more about these amazing birds and appreciate their intricacy and diversity.
Photo – Costa's Hummingbird Profile © Joan Gellatly