2023—Optical Bird Illusions

The brilliantly jewel-colored Broad-billed Hummingbirds, with their sapphire and emerald feathers, dominated the feeders at Madera Canyon this past week. They outnumbered the other hummers fifteen fold at least. They were first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave in the evening. They were feisty, constantly buzzing from feeder to feeder, and possessive of those feeders, sometimes even using their beaks to tap on the heads of other hummer species daring enough to feed there. And, undeterred by our size difference, they were unafraid of us. Seen through a supertelephoto lens placed about 9 feet away, their tiny bodies filled the frame, as in this image, despite measuring only about 3 and 3/4 inches. After viewing them this way for hours each day, when they flew within 8 inches of my eyes to feed at the tiny one portal feeder I had on the top edge of my lens (click here to see) I realized that the camera had distorted my perception of them. Viewing them at 560mm, the camera had created an optical illusion in my brain about their size. Seeing them a few inches from my eyes even though it was 20 times closer than through the lens, I was astounded to see how incredibly tiny these exquisitely beautiful creatures really are.