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Tips for Watching Hummingbirds

How to Get Great Views of Hummingbirds


Rufous Hummingbird

With the right planning, you can have fabulous hummingbird views.

Joan Gellatly

Hummingbirds are some of the most desirable backyard birds, but they can also be some of the most frustrating when they flit away too quickly for a good view. With the right tips for watching hummingbirds, however, it’s possible to enjoy outstanding looks at these outstanding birds.

Why We Need Good Views

Good views are essential for backyard birders, not only in order to enjoy the species visiting your feeders, but also to get a proper identification on the birds or to take pictures of them. It can be especially difficult to get the best views of hummingbirds, since the birds are so small and move so quickly. With the right equipment, a custom viewing location and plenty of patience, however, every backyard birder can be rewarded with fantastic hummingbird views.

Equipment to See Hummingbirds

Having the proper equipment to see hummingbirds effectively is critical for getting a good view. When you’re interested in watching hummingbirds in your backyard, make sure you have:

  • Good Optics: Birding binoculars with a high magnification will bring these tiny flying gems into clear focus for a great look. The binoculars should have a wide lens to let in plenty of light that can help you see the bird’s markings and iridescent colors clearly for proper identification. If you are watching hummingbirds at feeders distant from your windows, a short range viewing scope can also be useful, but be sure it is set on a sturdy tripod to avoid jostling.

  • Clean Windows: If you are watching hummingbirds from inside your home, cleaning the windows regularly will ensure that smudges and dirt don’t obstruct your view. With birds this small, even a minor distortion in the view can make it harder to see the birds clearly and identify them properly.

Setting Up a Viewing Location

The best way to get good views of hummingbirds with little effort is to establish a viewing location that will attract the birds at just the right place and angles for you to see them clearly. Hummingbirds can be very geographically loyal and will often return to their favorite feeding areas and perches regularly, giving you many opportunities to watch them closely.

The first step in creating a viewing location is to choose an appropriate spot where you want to see hummingbirds. Ideally, the location will have all the elements to attract birds: food, water, shelter and nesting sites. For hummingbirds, nectar feeders and nectar-producing flowers provide ample food, and a mister or bubbler in a small bird bath will give the birds a place to drink and preen. Perches provide places to rest, and with the right plants, it is possible to attract nesting hummingbirds.

In addition to making your viewing location attractive to hummingbirds, it has to be attractive to your views as well. It should be in good, clear light, with an unobstructed line between where the birds appear and where you will be to view them. To make the location even more attractive…

  • Trim excess branches and flowers to concentrate birds’ activity just where you can see best

  • Choose a location away from strong breezes that can swing feeders, make flying difficult or cause other branches to block the view

  • Keep the area safe from cats, wasps and other potential predators that can scare away the hummingbirds or put them in danger

  • Keep other bird feeders away from the hummingbird area to prevent conflicts between small and large birds and to keep larger birds from claiming the area as their own

  • Add a gazing ball or other colorful ornamental structure to the area to add more color that will attract hummingbirds

  • Hang fine cotton nesting material for hummingbirds near the viewing area to encourage nesting birds and to watch them gather material for their nests

Hummingbird Photography

The best views you may be able to get of hummingbirds are photos you take of these fast, agile birds. Even an amateur photographer can take good hummingbird pictures with practice and patience, and those photos can be incredibly useful for identifying the birds or enjoying them after migration. To take great hummingbird photos…

  • Choose a camera with a good optical zoom that will bring the birds much closer and into sharp focus

  • Use a fast shutter speed that can freeze the birds in the frame for better clarity

  • Mount the camera on a tripod to avoid unintentional blurring, and use a camera with motion stabilization if possible

  • Consider a camera setup with rapid shooting that will take multiple photos with a single click

More Tips for Watching Hummingbirds

Getting great views of hummingbirds can be hard, but it can also be incredibly rewarding to see such clear, outstanding images of these tiny birds. To make the most of your hummingbird viewing…

  • Be Patient: It make take the birds several days or weeks to discover your viewing location, but once they find it they will be regular guests. Be sure to have your viewing location ready early every spring to catch the first returning migrants who remember it from the year before.

  • Be Bird-Friendly: The more bird-friendly your landscaping, the easier it will be to attract hummingbirds into great locations. Plant flowers that attract hummingbirds and use other landscaping tricks to attract the birds.

  • Keep the Birds Healthy: Always clean your hummingbird feeders and use a suitable hummingbird nectar recipe to ensure the food will be attractive to the birds without causing any health problems for them.

  • Keep Insects Away: While hummingbirds do eat a lot of insects, they will glean these from your plants and flowers, not from the feeders themselves. Control the insects – ants, bees, wasps, etc. – near your feeders and viewing area to keep the birds coming back.

With the right equipment and a proper viewing area, watching hummingbirds can be an amazing experience.

Photo – Rufous Hummingbird © Joan Gellatly

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