When you think about the state of Wyoming, and you make your top ten list, hummingbirds probably don't even come to mind. Yet, Wyoming is an important ecological niche in the nesting, breeding and migration of hummingbirds. I know this for a fact after nearly twenty years of photographing hummingbirds in the Wind River Canyon. No other person in Wyoming has spent as much time with hummingbirds and their young as I have.
Lesson #1 - Hummingbirds have a language. This revelation startled me one afternoon a few years ago. Doing something unusual while standing near a favorite nectar feeder on a hot afternoon watching the adult female hummingbirds....I closed my eyes and just listened.
The adult female, that was controlling this particular feeder, made a different sound that depended on how the others approached "her" hummingbird feeder. If the approaching hummer came near, her warning was different than if the bird tried to sit down, and different still if the bird just swooped by. If she had to stop eating and chase the other bird away, it was a completely different set of "clicks and chirps." That afternoon I counted four distinct warnings.
Lesson #2 - Hummingbirds must to learn to sit-down and eat. It's easy to tell if a hummingbird is "wild" or "domesticated." They must hover while feeding from wildflowers in nature, and learn to sit-down at my hummingbird feeders; and there is a learning curve; and just like in humans, some are slow learners.
If you watch hummingbirds closely, it's easy to tell which have been born near man-made feeders, and which are too stupid to sit down. They'll be hovering while the others are sitting and then maybe there is that moment. During migration, which is going on right now, it's easy to observe which hummingbirds haven't been using human-made feeders, and which have.
Lesson #3 - Hummingbirds are very curious and fearless little birds. I always supposed that speed and agility gave them their bravery, but after spending two decades of summers with them I've come to believe it's much, much more. Unlike so many of the hundred-plus species in the Wind River Canyon, hummingbirds will come right over for a look; me, you, the dog, wild turkeys once, and even their own reflections. Pattern recognition is how they learn to return to this canyon every year, so they look at everything. Nothing can eat a hummingbird, so what's to fear?
Lesson #4 - Baby Hummingbirds are easier to approach than you'd think, and they don't just eat my homemade nectar. A baby anything is afraid of everything, but not hummingbirds. A young Rufous Hummingbird wants and needs to control a food source, you on the other hand are not food. All mammals need a protein source. Hummingbirds are in the Wind River Canyon for the little bugs; a good protein, but not to my liking.
Lesson #5 - Photographing hummingbirds is a lot like playing video games. Reactions need to be lightning quick, so you must know your equipment without glancing down. I'll shoot hundreds of frames in an afternoon, for that one that may be special. Yet, my favorite part of summer in the canyon is photographing baby hummingbirds----go slow and concentrate, and do it again, and again, and again.....the two baby hummingbird images below were imaged this month. Rufous Hummingbird Baby Summer 2017A Rufous Hummingbird Baby imaged Summer 2017 in the Wind River Canyon in Wyoming. Hummingbird Baby Born in Wind River Canyon-Summer 2017Baby Rufous Hummingbird born in Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming, Summer 2017 These are two different Baby Hummingbirds that were born right here in the Wind River Canyon. They were photographed in the wild and are not "set-up" shots; I shoot images of them wherever they sit. I do not "put up sticks" for them to sit on, and I have never needed to use a blind with a young hummer. They are baby Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus); they were both imaged early in the morning. Because they are Rufous they are usually the species exhibiting this behavior, but not always. A book is the only way of trying to I.D. a species, and sometimes even I am confounded, since interbreeding is apparently common in nature.
Lesson #6 - Hummingbirds are not in Wyoming and the Wind River Canyon because I make nectar and religiously keep the feeders clean and full. This is a great place to raise your young if you are a hummingbird, and my "sugar-water" (4-parts water/1-plus part real sugar) is just a nice way of helping them and being a part of their "life-cycle." I don't interfere any more than I have to, and they don't seem to mind a bit!
Lesson #7 - Hummingbirds and their young do indeed migrate very long distances, and they don't fly on the backs of geese; as one crazy insisted to me one day! Geese don't come up this way in the hot summers, hummingbirds do. When we see geese migrating north in the Fall, the hummingbirds are already far to the warmer southern states. They are incredible little jewels of a bird, and have amazing capabilities.
It would be very easy for me to go on and on about hummingbirds, as there is nothing else in all of nature that rivals their beauty and flying skills; enjoy them I do, and so will you. The video below, if you haven't seen it, is of a young hummingbird just outside my place in the Wind River Canyon. All content in my Wind River Canyon Blog was created by me and all rights are reserved.
Michael John Balog, Wind River Canyon, Wyoming.
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