The Sipe Mountain Wildlife Area 15th annual High Country Hummingbird Festival included hummingbird banding by Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, plant displays for attracting hummingbirds, live wildlife from the department’s Wildlife Center, wildlife walk with a naturalist, informational talks about hummingbirds, and a beginner workshop on photographing hummingbirds.

For me this annual event is a hummer photography rodeo, plain and simple.  They must have 30 feeders full of sugar and the little buggers seem to be high as a kite zooming around everywhere.  The only thing slowing these little pistols down was the competition to get to the feeders without getting chased out by an aggressive Rufous, who are well known for chasing each other out of territory.

I used a 600mm and shot up to 1/32000 per second to stop the action.  But isolating a bird with a long lens that is not on top of a feeder is a spray and pray affair at 24fps burst shooting.  It’s a case of good news/bad news because some Sony cameras are capable of shooting 24fps which yields more bird positions but also forces you to spend hours deleting the frames that crop out body parts or are out of focus.

I recommend using a monopod or tripod and for best results adding off camera strobes that are able to utilize high speed sync (HSS).  But if you have good direct light and a pleasant background then you’re be off to the races using a 1/1000 to 1/8000 shutter speed range.

Fun hummer facts from UC Davis:


  • The number of times a hummingbird’s wings beat is different from one species to another, and ranges from 720 to 5400 times per minute when hovering.
  • Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards.
  • Some hummingbirds fly at speeds greater than 33 miles per hour.
  • A hummingbird’s wing beats take up so much energy, they spend the majority of their time resting on branches and twigs.
  • Hummingbirds got their name from the humming noise their wings make in flight.
  • Approximately 25-30% of a hummingbird’s bodyweight is flight muscle, as opposed to other birds, which average 15%.
  • Hummingbirds can fly in the rain and, like dogs, shake their heads to dispel drops of water. Unlike dogs, however, a hummingbird shakes its head violently, 132 times per second, and rotating 202 degrees—all while flying and maintaining direction!


  • Hummingbirds can enter a state of physical inactivity called torpor, in which the birds reduce their body temperature to conserve energy.
  • “adept at burning both glucose and fructose, which are the individual components of sugar; a unique trait other vertebrates cannot achieve.”
  • A hummingbird’s metabolism is about 100 times faster than an elephant’s!


  • A hummingbird has only a few taste buds and salivary glands in its mouth.
  • Hummingbirds are some of the smallest birds in the world, and the bee hummingbird is by far the smallest at just one inch in length, weighing two grams.
  • Hummingbirds have no sense of smell.
  • Hummingbirds have more neck vertebra (14 or 15) as opposed to most mammals (7).
  • A hummingbird’s heart is relatively the largest of all animals at 2.5% of its body weight.
  • Hummingbirds’ legs and feet are small and weak, so they are used only for perching, not walking,
  • A hummingbird weighs less than a nickel, on average.
  • The iridescence of hummingbird feathers is a result of prism-like microstructures that fragment light into components of the spectrum, by a process of absorption and angle of light.
  • A hummingbird tongue is flat and split at the tip, bifurcated like a forked tongue. Each of the bifurcated flaps is edged with fringe, which makes the tip of tongue look like a feather. At rest, the flaps are rolled up in tubular shape and stuck together. When a hummingbird feeds, it picks fluid up by protracting the tongue, spreading the bifurcated tip, which opens out flat, gets covered with fluid, then brought back into the mouth.


  • When hummingbirds migrate to the United States in the springtime, they cover 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, flying for 20 hours without stopping.
  • In preparation for migration, a hummingbird will store half its body weight worth of fat.
  • Hummingbirds migrate alone and not in flocks.  Very commonly the males migrate first followed by the females.


  • Nearly 15% of hummingbird species are vulnerable to extinction.
  • It has been reported that very small hummingbirds have been caught in spider webs, stuck on thistles, and eaten by praying mantis, frogs, and dragonflies.
  • Hummingbirds are killed when striking windows.
  • Predators, such as cats, can catch and kill hummingbirds

Food Consumption

  • On an average day, a hummingbird will consume double its body weight.
  • A hummingbird drinks nectar by protracting and contracting its tongue around 13 times per second.
  • A hummingbird drinks nectar from hundreds of flowers, and eats thousands of tiny insects each day.
  • The edges of a hummingbird’s tongue are rolled inward to assist in bringing nectar and insects into the bird’s mouth.

Breeding and Reproduction

  • Only female hummingbirds build nests.
  • Female hummingbirds lay only two eggs.
  • The male hummingbird is not involved in raising young, and will often find another mate after the young are hatched.
  • Hummingbirds tend to return to the area where they were hatched.
  • After hatching, baby hummingbirds will stay in the nest for approximately three weeks.

Natural History

  • More than 330 species of hummingbirds live in North and South America.
  • Only 5% of hummingbird species live primarily north of Mexico.
  • 95% of hummingbird species live primarily south of the United States.


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