Spring Is Here, and So Are The Hummingbirds!

Anna's Hummingbird


As you may know – as evidenced by my previous posts – my favourite subject to photograph is wildlife, and one of my favourite animals to photograph are hummingbirds.  In Vancouver, the most common hummingbirds are the Anna’s and the Rufous.  The hardy Anna’s can stay all year, provided they have a reliable food source such as feeders, although many sadly perished during our cold snap in January.  The Rufous will migrate all the way down to Mexico for the winter and return starting in mid March. We may also get a few Calliope & Black Chinned hummingbirds, but they are rare.  I have been fortunate enough to find and photograph many hummingbird nests in and around Vancouver.

Hummingbirds will use the fluffy seeds of cattails and bulrushes as one of the materials to build their nests with, and if you’re patient and sit near some cattails, eventually a hummingdbird will come and collect the seeds.  My photos are of female Anna’s Hummingbirds collecting from cattails in a local park.

I have found and photographed many hummingbird nests, but they are extremely well camouflaged, and are difficult to spot on their own. You can be looking right at one and not notice. The nests take about a week to build and are about the size of a golf ball cut in half. Made with densely spun spider silk then covered with moss and lichen, they look much like part of the branch they are attached to. The inner part of the nest is lined with soft, fuzzy material like the aforementioned fluffy seeds of cattails or animal down and the whole nest is elastic so it will expand with the growing chicks. The eggs inside are the size of a Tic Tac, and take about two weeks to hatch. The chicks fledge about 20 days after hatching, and will stay close to the nest for a few days, while still being fed by momma. While I have found some nests totally by chance, invariably, it is the female returning to her nest which alerts you as to where the nest is located.

If and when you do find a nest – and I know it can be very exciting – especially if it’s your first one, but please observe it with a pair of binoculars or telephoto lens and don’t get too close. If you do get too close, momma will fly away. If you are too close, she will not return to her nest when she sees you and will instead fly from perch to perch, or perch nearby and angrily chirp at you. When you notice this behaviour, it means you’re too close to her nest. You don’t want the eggs or very young chick to get cold. Very young chicks cannot thermoregulate and you also don’t want the chicks to go without being fed for longer than a normal length of time, which may affect their development. If momma abandons the nest, the chicks will die without human intervention. This should be obvious, but NEVER touch the chicks or nest! It is illegal to touch, move, relocate and remove an active nest…and always, always remember the welfare of the animal is more important than getting a photo. 100% ALWAYS!

For all of the photos in this article, I used either my Canon R5 + Canon 600mm f4L with or without a 1.4x teleconverter or a Nikon Z7II, Z8 or Z9 + Nikon 400mm f2.8G VR with or without 1.4x teleconverter or the new Z 180-600mm f5.6~f6.3. This allows me to keep a distance of at least 6m (19 ft) so as not to make momma hummingbird nervous. I will also use a pair of PocketWizards to remotely trigger my camera, as they have a much longer range (up to 1600′) than using Bluetooth or WiFi.

The lead photo is of an Anna’s Hummingbird gathering the fluffy seeds of a cattail for building the structure of her nest.

Female Anna’s Hummingbird gathering the fluffy seeds of a cattail. Canon 5DmkIV + Canon 600mm f4L @ 1/3200 sec, f4.5, 320 ISO

Female Rufous Hummingbird building her nest with lichen, moss, spider webs, cattail seeds, etc.. Nikon Z7 + Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 @ 1/160 sec, f5.6, 400 ISO

A beautiful Anna’s Hummingbird nest on a Monkey Puzzle Tree. Nikon D500 + Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR II @ 1/250 sec, f4, 200 ISO

Anna’s Hummingbird feeds her four day old chicks. Nikon Z7 II + Nikon Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S @ 1/200 sec, f2.8, 800 ISO

Anna’s Hummingbird chicks all ready to fledge! They both fledged the next day. Nikon D810 + Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 VR @ 1/500 sec, f5.6, 1250 ISO

Anna’s Hummingbird fledgling. Canon 7DmkII + Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II @ 1/125 sec, f2.8, 100 ISO

An empty Anna’s Hummingbird nest after both chicks fledged. Soy A7RIV + 600mm f4 + 1.4x TC @ 1/640 sec, f6.3, 3200 ISO


This is a female Rufous Hummingbird busily working on building her nest. Here you can see her bring in some fluff to build up the structure of her nest and make some adjustments by stamping her feet.

Momma Anna’s Hummingbird feeds one of her fledglings.

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