Jewels of the Air

Hummingbirds zip here and there so quickly that I’m not always sure if I see what I think I see. Often, I hear the low buzz of their wings before I actually see them. Zip, zip, zip, there they go. Can I focus in time? Is my shutter speed fast enough? These are just a few of the challenges of photographing these beautiful “jewels of the air.”

PHOTO: Hummingbird hovering near red salvia.
I found this hummingbird in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden, visiting a red salvia.
©Carol Freeman

If you see one of these gems, it is virtually guaranteed to be the ruby-throated hummingbird, the sole breeding hummingbird of the eastern United States. They winter in Central America, and spend the summers in North America. There are often breeding pairs here at the Chicago Botanic Garden. You can see them feeding if you know where to look.

PHOTO: Hummingbird on a branch.
This guy was zipping around McDonald Woods, but stopped for a few seconds so I could get this shot.
©Carol Freeman

I always check their favorite flowers: any color of trumpet-shaped flowers, red and orange flowers, and even flowering trees. I’ve seen them regularly in three places in the Garden.

One area is in and around the English Walled Garden. You can stand on the main sidewalk and watch them as they visit the flowers and then rest on one of the small trees. They will often visit the same patch of flowers over and over again and then go back to the same perch, giving you a perfect chance to snap a few photos. I use at least a 200mm lens and prefer my 300mm lens for best results. I set my camera to f8, 1/1000 of a second, for sharp shots with just a touch of wing blur. I use manual focus and take lots of photos. I’d say I get one good photo for every 15 or 20 I take! So keep at it! These are tricky birds to get in the air.

Another good place to find hummingbirds is around the Sensory and Enabling Gardens. It’s a large area, but walk around and look for the colorful flowers. There is a good chance a hummingbird will be nearby.

PHOTO: Hummingbird gathering nectar.
This hummingbird was busy sipping nectar from the flowers outside of the Bulb Garden.
©Carol Freeman

The third place where I often see them in late summer is in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden. There is a nice patch of bright red salvia near the little pond, which seems to be a favorite hangout for hummingbirds. You can just park yourself a few feet away from the flowers, wait 15 minutes or so, and most likely a hummingbird will stop by!

But be ready, as you just might have a close encounter with a hummingbird almost anywhere in the Garden. I’ve seen them by the Bulb Garden, the Fruit & Vegetable Garden, McDonald Woods, the Native Plant Garden, and even out in the Prairie! It’s always a thrill and a joy to see these amazing birds any day, and if I happen to get a photo, well that’s just the icing on the cake.

PHOTO: Hummingbird on salvia.
This gal was taking a short rest in the Enabling Garden.
©Carol Freeman

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

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Carol Freeman

Photographing nature is Carol’s true passion. Her images reflect her philosophy of finding beauty in all of nature. Her respect of nature has led her to create beautiful light-filled images with low-impact techniques that leave the habitat just as she found it. Her shots are all achieved without the use of flash, fill, or tripod. Carol Freeman Photography is sought out for photo assignments by a variety of clients. Projects range from photographing nature preserves to creating products for fundraising.

5 thoughts on “Jewels of the Air”

  1. Love this article. I live in nearby Buffalo Grove and have been unsuccessful in attracting any hummingbirds as of yet (just started this year). What flowers, shrubs and trees do you recommend planting in order to attract hummingbirds and does Chicago Botanic Garden offer any classes on the topic?

    1. I also live in BG. We have had hummingbirds in the yard for about 7 years. I start the necter in 2 places in my yard the last week of April and change it every 3 days until the flowers are in. I put black and blue salvia in large pots on my patio. The hummingbirds love it. I plant Monarda, aka bee balm, in various colors in my yard and in my neighbor’s yards. I also have lobelia in the yard but it has never done very well. I also pot fuschia every year as it is supposed to be a good hummingbird flower but the hummingbirds never go to it.

  2. I live in San Jose Costa Rica in a beautiful small city called EZCAZU, have a hummingbird feeder in my yard around my orchid garden, daily I have two gorgeous little hummingbirds that come to drink the water from the feeder.
    The solution I use is the mix that is sold at veterinary supplies. Is it Safe ? or can I just mix water and regular sugar. I’d like to hear your comment. Thank you.

    1. We are not familiar with veterinary mixes, but yes, you can just mix regular sugar with water. Dissolve 1 part sugar to 4 part water. For example, 4 cups of water to 1 cup of sugar or 1 cup of water to 1/4 cup of sugar, depending on how much hummingbird activity you are getting. It works best to use hot water to dissolve the sugar, then cool the solution before putting it out in the feeder. Change the solution whenever it starts looking cloudy. Keep any remaining solution in the refrigerator.

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