A Cooperative Hummingbird

A bright sunny morning, temperature only 76 at 10:30, windows finally opened. It was a good day.

So, I headed out with my camera.  Three recent rains prompted flowers to bloom.

I first saw the ruby-throated hummingbird visit flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sp.). It flew before I got it’s picture.

 It visited red salvias next.

Then it spent a lot of time on the butteflybush. 

After all that vigorous activity, it landed on the wire to the barn.

I didn’t see its tongue until I got this picture in the computer.

And then it was gone.

I did a little online research since I’d never even thought about a hummingbird’s tongue. They don’t sip nectar like drinking through a straw. The tip of their tongue is divided into two parts, and each is fringed with extensions knows as lamellae.

The two tips are held flat together. As the tongue goes into the nectar the two forks separate, and the lamellae unfurl. When the hummingbird begins to withdraw its tongue, the lamellae roll inwards to trap nectar and deliver it into the mouth.


I’ve waited a long time to photograph a hummingbird, just so I could tell this story.

Years ago I was working in the garden one evening. A kestrel (a small falcon) began squawking like it was being mortally wounded. It squawked and squawked … a hummingbird was chasing it! It continued squawking as it flew around, with the hummingbird in quick persuit. The hummingbird chased the kestrel off and perched in the very top of the dead pear tree, looking so triumphant!

I still chuckle over that one.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Therese on August 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

    amazing, as usual!


  2. I really appreciate what it takes to get these pictures of hummingbirds, especially at flowers. I’ve been trying to snap some here for a couple years but only recently are they still long enough for a picture — thanks to a feeder. I’ve been watching and wondering about their tongue…thanks for explaining! I was also wondering how aggressive they’d be, and you’re story begins to answer that. Sometimes when I approach the feeder, a male will fly close to my face for a few seconds before flying away. I don’t know if that’s a warning or just curiosity.


    • This one was more cooperative than past attempts. I use a Canon Powershot SX130IS, I’m not a photographer. I just took a LOT of pictures. The glare on the display was a complication. I got one picture each stop that was close enough. So I was surprised that I got the pics I did. I”ve never had one get aggressive, but then I don’t have feeders either. This is such a fun way to learn things like about their tongue!


      • I use the same camera (currently waiting to get it back from manufacturer for repairs)! Do you use a special setting? I usually just set it to “P” and manually adjust the brightness.

      • I put it on “P” too. I rarely use “M” because it won’t focus where I want if the subject is close. I’m not a photographer — I just know how to do what I want to do. All the photographic stuff is “Greek” to me.

      • Same. Figuring it out as needed …

  3. Great shots, congrats! What an interesting fact about their tongue. Love your hummingbird pursuing the kestrel, what an awesome sighting! I can envision the hummingbird perching at the end so proud, makes me giggle! 🙂


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