As warmer weather approaches, multitudes of migrant birds are on track for arrival in North America. Among them are those favorite avian gems, hummingbirds. The spring arrival—or year-round presence—of hummingbirds in yards varies across the country, but current studies point out some new potential challenges to migrating hummingbirds, such as changing bloom times of nectar plants and an earlier arrival of spring on their wintering and breeding grounds. Here we’ve gathered general guidelines to current hummingbird migration patterns for various sections of the country, as well some tips on the different feeding strategies you can use to attract them to your yard. Additionally, you can also learn more about how to help hummingbirds below.
Eastern United States
Over most of the eastern two-thirds of North America, from central Canada southward, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird reigns supreme. Predominantly a neotropical migrant, it winters from southern Mexico to Costa Rica. Each spring, this species arrives in numbers along the Gulf Coast by early March, filtering northward over the next two months until arriving in northern states and southern provinces by late April or early May. Migrating males usually arrive a week or so before females at any given location. Climate change is affecting the migration of Ruby-throats, though. As conditions warm on the wintering grounds, data indicate that they leave their winter homes earlier on their way to the Gulf Coast. Interestingly, it also appears that hummingbirds then hang around in the Gulf Coast for longer than normal, perhaps to recuperate from their trip across the Gulf of Mexico.
Migrating hummingbirds start to visit flowering plants and nectar feeders in March and usually stick around through May. To have resources ready for northward migrants in regions where hummingbirds are absent in the winter, it’s best to put nectar out by early March if you live in the Southeast, and by late April if you live in the Northeast.
Southeastern United States
The Southeastern coast, from Cape Hatteras southward, in Florida, and especially around the Gulf Coast, is different from the rest of the eastern United States. Here hummingbirds are likely to be present year-round, with both higher diversity and greater numbers of birds present in winter! As such, supplying nectar sources and insect-laded gardens is appropriate year-round in these regions. In coastal Texas and Louisiana, hummingbirds may visit feeders in the late winter and early spring.
In the mountainous West, a variety of hummingbirds, including Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, Rufous, and Calliope, arrive in spring as the first flowers bloom. Starting in early March, these species will appear in yards near the Mexican border, and by early to mid-May will be found in the northern Rockies. Rufous Hummingbirds winter primarily in southern Mexico and breed as far north as southeastern Alaska. These hardy little birds can survive sub-freezing temperatures on practically any night of the year, but they can’t go without nectar and small insects, none of which are available in the winter in this region. Climate change and earlier blooming times for wildflowers may be affecting all of these species, as they do not appear to be shifting their arrival times to match the early blossoming times of their favorite food sources. Nectar feeders and selected wildflower plantings in yards can help these species fuel up for their continued migration and upcoming breeding season.
Southwest and West Coast
In the Southwest and in the West to British Columbia, hummingbirds are present year-round. In southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, many sought-after species, including Blue-throated, Magnificent, Broad-billed, and White-eared hummingbirds, frequent backyard nectar feeders, and even-rarer visitors can also make an appearance.
Hummingbird lovers on the West Coast from California to British are also fortunate. Large numbers of hummingbirds, especially Anna’s to the north and Allen’s to the south, are likely to be found in good numbers in hummingbird-friendly yards year-round. Migrant Rufous Hummingbirds also move northward early—as far north as Oregon by the end of February—on their way to their coastal Alaskan breeding grounds.
Two Ways to Help Hummingbirds
Grow Native Plants: Growing plants that are indigenous to your area is a great way to both attract and help the hummingbirds you love. Native plants provide shelter and food, including a healthy environment for insects, part of the hummingbird diet important during breeding season. Get a list of native plants customized for your area by visiting our handy Plants for Birds database.
Become a Citizen Scientist: You can protect hummingbirds by helping crowdsource invaluable data using Audubon’s free Hummingbirds at Home app or website. You just submit your observations on when hummingbirds feed on nectar-bearing plants in your yard or community. To get started, go to hummingbirdsathome.org