A female Ruby-throated hummingbird perched high up on a tree branch at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum Pennsylvania. Photographed with the Sony 200-600mm lens

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird Spotted at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

I just so happened to get extremely lucky spotting this female Ruby-throated hummingbird with my naked eye, as it was perched high up on a tree branch, silhouetted against the blue sky (hey, that rhymed!).

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
A female Ruby-throated hummingbird perches high up on a tree branch at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, Pennsylvania. Photographed with the Sony 200-600mm Lens

I wasn’t exactly sure what type of bird it was at first, but after recognizing the unusually thing long beak, I automatically assumed it was a hummingbird. It remained perched long enough for me to snap a photo of it (using my Sony 200-600mm lens acquired in May (2022)) before eventually flying off.

I’m not really what you would consider a “birder”, as I don’t carry binoculars with me, I don’t try to memorize all the different bird calls and sounds, and more importantly I just happen to enjoy observing and photographing everything I encounter: insect, bird, reptile or animal.

So as I continued down the gravel path I was on, the female Ruby-throated hummingbird showed up again, but this time off to my right, perched lower among the brush. I was about 20-30 feet away and pretty much stopped dead in my tracks after spotting it this second time, as I didn’t want to get any closer and scare it off. Luckily it remained perched long enough for me to snap a few more photos before it eventually flew off again. After it flew off, it briefly returned to the brush where it was just perched, hovering around some of the flowers if I recall correctly, only to fly away for good this time.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
A female Ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch among the shrubs at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, Pennsylvania. Photographed with the Sony 200-600mm Lens

This could have been a separate female, but I kind of doubt it. It’s not like hummingbirds are in abundance like every other bird in the area. Plus, the bush where it was perching wasn’t all that far away from where I spotted it up in the tree. But hey, anything’s possible! I’m just not betting the house on it.

Ideally, I would have preferred an opportunity to photograph it while it was hovering and feeding, but I was plenty thankful for the opportunities I had during this outing. In order to capture those ideal moments, one would either have to get very lucky, put up a hummingbird feeder in one’s backyard, or stalk a known bush, plant or area where a hummingbird would often be found. Unfortunately, I don’t get the chance to visit the outdoors on a daily basis like I wish in order to try and capture those rare moments. Perhaps when I retire!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
A female Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight after taking off from its perch at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, Pennsylvania. Photographed with the Sony 200-600mm Lens

The last time I encountered a hummingbird in the wild was way back around 2005 during my macro photography outings in my early 30’s. I was at a pond in a particular state park in Delaware (USA) when I noticed a hummingbird swoop down among the cattails. And if I recall correctly, I observed it gathering some of the blooms of the cattails, perhaps for nesting material, though I could be mistaken. I just know I’ll never forget (it’s only been about 17 years now) that I noticed it performing this behavior about 2 or 3 times.

I never expected to stumble upon a hummingbird again during my outings, let alone one perched on a branch. For one, they are not very common or often seen out in the wild where I live. And two, they are quite active and do not remain still for very long. So I was quite lucky and thrilled with encountering what I later researched and learned to be a Ruby-throated hummingbird.

So if you are someone that enjoys birding and/or photographing wildlife, and have yet to spot a hummingbird or any particular uncommon or rare species you are hoping to encounter, don’t give up! Keep at it, keep searching, keep your eyes and ears open, and who knows! You just might get lucky enough and stumble upon that once-in-a-lifetime moment and opportunity!

– Paul (aka E.R.)


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