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updated: 9/21/2012 9:46 AM

Making hummingbird video no easy feat

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  • George LeClaire

    George LeClaire

  • George LeClaire

    George LeClaire

  • Video: Backyard hummingbirds


Recording audio of the ruby-throated hummingbird proved to be harder than capturing photographs of the 3-inch bird in mid-flight.

For six years I have photographed a hummingbird eating from flowers and feeders in our small condominium backyard in Glenview, capturing hundreds of great images using a large sports zoom lens -- placing the feeders and flowers near windows and shooting them throughout the glass.

But this year, with two birds arriving in May and two more in June -- all staying the whole summer -- I wanted to challenge myself. Video of flight and feeding and audio of the wing motion came to mind.

I spent several July and August days capturing close-up video of the birds eating from flowers and feeders, using a Canon DSLR photo camera with a large sports lens and using a variety of wireless microphones.

To record the audio separately, I tried a very sensitive, high-end, hand-held digital recorder hanging a foot above a feeder without a perch -- so the bird would be in-flight in one spot while feeding. The highly sensitive recorder got nothing.

I then tried a shotgun and microphone hanging above with no results. Then a zoom directional machine that got only low sounds -- no audio of the wings beating, just a high pitched chirp.

Guessing that most of the wing motion sound might come from under the hummingbird I attached a wireless tie-clip microphone (wirelessly attached to the video camera) with a foam wind screen on the mic.

I clipped it to a non-perch feeder just inches below where the female bird would hover for its in-flight feeding. I used the wind screen because tie-clip microphones pick up a lot of wind noise even in low wind.

After waiting two hours, the hummingbird showed up and flew inches above the clip-mic three times for 40 seconds. I was sure I had great sound. But, after downloading the video and playing it, I could hardly hear it, even though I had the wireless mic manually turned up all the way.

The next morning, while watching the hummingbird hovering near a window, it finally hit me -- the wing sound is wind motion, and the wind shelf I placed on the mic prevented me from capturing the audio.

The next day, without the foam windshield over the tie-clip mic, I got excellent results. I captured the loud rapid beating of the bird's wings.

Our hummingbirds feed from eight plants and four feeders in our 30-by-30-foot backyard. It's like a buffet for hummingbirds: We plant several blue-black salvia, red salvia, and upright fuchsia tube flowering plants each year.

This year I added three bright red and yellow hummingbird feeders within a yard of our windows. We fill the feeders with the standard mix: one part sugar to four parts water. And, of course, we change it every three to four days as recommended.

According to Tim Joyce, hummingbirds have a great memory -- if they try a feeder that tastes bad, they will not try it again for the rest of their lives.

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