Anna’s Hummingbird Colors

by Larry Jordan on November 14, 2010

Anna’s Hummingbird Male photos by Larry Jordan

Sitting in front of my computer I saw a flash go by the window, heading downward, toward the Autumn Sage planted below my window.  This could only be one thing, a hummingbird.  I sprung up off of my chair and looked out the window to find a male Anna’s Hummingbird feeding from the sage.

You can see from the photo above, looking down on him, he had his back to the direction of the sun.  You can see the greens and some blue on his back but his head and gorget (pronounced gawr-jit) just look gray.  This is because of the way we see hummingbird colors.

Here he is still facing away from the sun but he has been busy in the flowers and is sporting a pretty good coating of pollen on his beak (click images for full sized photos).

Hummingbird colors are created by feathers with a grid structure, a grating effect that produces evenly scored lines, with both sides of the grid covered by a smooth membrane.  Components of white light entering this feather structure are split (refracted) into separate colors1.

Different spacing of the grating in each species, as well as among individual feathers, determines which color wavelength will be refracted.  Rainbow colors are produced by refracted light which produces colors in their purest form.

As this male Anna’s Hummingbird turns toward the sun, the angle of the light striking his gorget feathers begin to show his true colors.

The left side of his gorget, the side most directly facing the sun, is showing that bright rosy red color they are so famous for, but the right side is a golden color and his head shows a reddish tinge, but is not iridescent.

As he turns more toward the sun we begin to see the iridescent red on his crown

Until we see the full beauty and color of his gorget and his crown nearly fully iridescent

and with a slightly different angle, his entire crown is glowing.

For more great bird photos, check out Bird Photography Weekly!

References: 1 Hummingbirds of North America, Attracting Feeding & Photographing by Dan True, University of New Mexico Press

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Dawn Fine November 14, 2010 at 4:27 am

Woweeeeeee! Awesome photos Larry!


Klaus November 14, 2010 at 4:56 am

Simply beautiful!


Crafty Green Poet November 14, 2010 at 5:04 am

what amazing photos – such a lovely bird!


Larry November 14, 2010 at 7:27 am

@Dawn thanks! After seeing him, I opened the window and took out the screen and waited for this little guy to come back. He not only came back but perched on a branch close by and posed for me as I clicked away!

@Klaus he is beautiful

@Juliet thank you


Mick November 14, 2010 at 11:58 am

We don’t have hummingbirds and I think they are beautiful. Your description of how the photos catch the light is very interesting and the photos are great.


Modesto Viegas (Portugal) November 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm



NatureFootstep November 14, 2010 at 1:35 pm

this is very interesting. I have read about this coloring before but never seen it documented like this. Some butterflies have it too.
Love those shots. 🙂


Kelly November 14, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Wow! Fab post. I loved seeing the transition as the hummer moved into the sun’s rays. On top of that…what a crazy stunning bird. I love our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but this little Anna’s is spectacular… Lovely captures…


Jan Axel November 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm

All the photos are great, but the last one… WOW. I love hummingbirds exactly by that iridiscent plumage!


Pat ODonnell November 15, 2010 at 10:54 am

Stunning images! You captured wonderfully the moment when “fairly dull” hummingbirds becomes “shockingly brilliant, jewel-like” creatures.


Mike B. November 15, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Great photos Larry. Like my post from a couple of months ago, but these photos illustrate the color phenomenon much better. Nicely done.


Grant McCreary November 15, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I’ll repeat it – great shots!

For such a lovely bird, though, my most enduring memories of them are their vocalizations. There is just something odd and wonderful about such a tiny, beautiful bird perched up high making such a racket!


Larry November 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm

@Mick I’m sorry you don’t have hummers. I call them the jewels of the sky. The refraction of sunlight that gives them their color is the same process that makes diamonds give off their rainbow colors

@Modesto thanks!

@NF interesting about the butterflies. Thank you

@Kelly thank you very much. I just got back to looking at all your incredible Heron and Egret posts. Fantastic!

@Jan thanks. It appears that you have plenty of varieties down there

@Pat thanks. The hummer did most of the work, I was just lucky enough to be there to record it

@Mike I remember your excellent post on this subject too. It was just luck that this little guy decided to perch right outside my open window and pose like they do, turning their heads back and forth to see if another hummer is headed for their nectar stash

@Grant I usually can’t hear their vocalizations because of the high pitch, but I sure can hear the hum of their wings and the “chirp” they make with their wings when they do their dive displays.


NatureFootstep November 17, 2010 at 6:17 am

had to come back, this is such a great post. .)


dreamfalcon November 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm

since we don’t have hummers I think this is just a great post on how the reflection of the sun works! I love how those little feathers look like little shields. thank you for sharing!


Drew November 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Wow. Those are some seriously brilliant photographs!


Larry November 17, 2010 at 7:07 pm

@NF thank you again 😉

@Natalie I wish you had hummingbirds over there, they are so amazing

@Drew thank you very much


Kat November 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm

This is fascinating! You’ve really illustrated the phenomenon beautifully with your pictures.



Larry November 18, 2010 at 7:14 pm

@Kat thank you very much


vickie November 19, 2010 at 8:37 am

These photos took my breath away. Absolutely gorgeous! I SO love hummingbirds, and the Anna’s is a tiny one that I’ve only seen once while visiting Arizona. I was surprised by the loudness of his wing buzz.


Amy November 23, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Brilliant series (pun intended!)! I’ve never seen an Anna’s Hummingbird. What a beauty!!


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