Is it their tiny size, fast flight or vibrant colors that make hummingbirds so irresistible? Maybe it’s their scarcity in our area, where a fleeting glance is all you are likely to get unless actively seeking them out.
“I’m sure it’s all that and more,” says John Turner, 62, a conservation policy advocate with the Seatuck Environmental Association and longtime naturalist. “Our most common local species, the ruby-throated hummingbird, has a heart rate of 1,250 beats per minute and wings that beat 50 times per second . . . It’s hard to imagine any living creature operating at that pace.”
ABOUT THE BIRDS
On Long Island, the emerald green hummingbirds arrive in late April and early May, having migrated 1,000 miles or so from southern Mexico or Central America, says North Fork Audubon Society board member Rick Kedenburg of Peconic.
They favor forest areas and mature woodlots with openings and small fields nearby. The only birds that routinely fly backward, they can be found anywhere in Nassau or Suffolk counties but are most numerous from the Pine Barrens east. You can spot them in parks, backyards or any place their favored flowers grow. Right now, their southern migration should just be getting underway, which means hummingbirds from as far away as Canada and Acadia National Park in Maine should be passing through Long Island during the next two months.
“Color is the key to both attracting and spotting hummingbirds,” says Turner. “They like bright red, blue and purple flowers and are not attracted to other colors like yellow or white.”
The birds also prefer tubular blooms like trumpet vine, honeysuckle and cardinal flowers — even butterfly bush, all are good choices to plant around the house.
Because of their high metabolism, hummingbirds need to eat throughout the day. They seem especially hungry when they awake in the morning and before they settle in for the night, so head out in those time slots to better your viewing chances.
“Still, nothing increases your odds of hummingbird sighting like putting out a sugar water feeder,” Turner says. “In fact, we’ve seen a definite increase in hummingbird numbers across New York State over the past two decades, and part of that has likely come from just such human assistance.”
With the feeders, avoid adding any kind of color or special ingredients — simply combine one part sugar with four parts water. That’s all the birds require.
“I think the feeders and plantings definitely are helping,” Kedenburg agrees. “I’m seeing more hummingbirds each year on Long Island. Sometimes they even get protective of the feeder, with one bird chasing others away. To solve that problem, put up two feeders, one on each side of the yard. That should diffuse the tension — and double your chances of seeing a hummingbird up close.”
HUMMINGBIRD HOT SPOTS
Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge
Dawn-dusk, Noyack Road, Sag Harbor
INFO $4 per car, 631-286-0485
Bayard Cutting Arboretum
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 440 Montauk Hwy., Great River
INFO $8 per car weekends only, 631-581-1002,
Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge
8 a.m.–4 p.m., 340 Smith Rd., Shirley
INFO Free admission, 631-286-0485, fws.gov/refuge/wertheim
Dawn-dusk, Chapel Lane, Greenport
INFO Free admission, 631-765-1800
Quogue Wildlife Refuge
Sunrise-sunset, 3 Old Country Rd., Quogue
INFO Free admission, 631-653-4771, quoguewildliferefuge.org
9 a.m.–5 p.m. (closed Tuesdays), 79 S. Ferry Rd., Shelter Island
INFO $3 suggested donation ($2 kids), 631-749-1001
You’ve seen the photos. A beautiful hummingbird is sipping nectar from a bright red trumpet-shaped flower; its head in focus, feather colors vibrant and wings blurred just enough to give the impression of their incredible speed.
How do you get that shot?
“It takes a lot of patience and waiting for the birds to show up,” says semi-pro photographer Diane Chatterton of Lindenhurst.
“If you find a spot where hummingbirds show regularly, get there early and dress in green or camouflaged clothing. These birds are very aware of their surroundings, so the better you blend in with the background and the less you move around, the closer you’ll get to your subject.”
To freeze the motion of the birds as much as possible, Chatterton likes to shoot with a shutter speed of 1/2000 or greater and an aperture setting of F-6 to F-4.5. She uses a Canon 70D Mark 2 camera with a 100–400 mm zoom lens, occasionally adding a 1.4 converter for even more telescopic power. Because these birds move around so quickly, she generally holds her camera without tripod support to better follow the action.
“Photographing in the early morning or after 5 p.m. works well for me,” Chatterton says. “That’s when the birds seem most hungry — and the light is most interesting. In fact, that’s generally a good time for just about any Long Island wildlife photography session.”