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Get ready for spring hummingbirds

When will your hummers return, and will you be ready?
When will your hummers return, and will you be ready?
Melissa Mayntz

The return of hummingbirds is a great sign of spring, but when should backyard birders get ready for these flying jewels to return to their gardens?

When Hummingbirds Arrive

A few hummingbird species are year-round residents of the Pacific Coast, southern California, southern Arizona and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, but all other hummingbirds are migratory and travel far to the south during the winter. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common hummer in North America and the only common species east of the Mississippi River, and these tiny birds begin to reappear in southern Florida as early as late February. By late March and early April they have reached the middle of their breeding range in Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, and by late April and early May they will reach their northernmost destinations in Michigan, Wisconsin, and New York.

In western North America, the rufous hummingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, broad-tailed hummingbird, and Calliope hummingbird all return in the spring, reaching roughly the same latitudes as their eastern ruby-throated cousins at roughly the same time. Birds closer to the Pacific Ocean may migrate earlier, while birds at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains arrive somewhat later, but every backyard birder should be prepared for hummingbird visitors by mid- to late-April.

Want to know the exact dates your hummingbirds should arrive? Check out the annual migration map!

Getting Ready for Hummers

When hummingbirds arrive during spring migration, they need a healthy, reliable source of food to refuel after their long journeys. They will also be looking for suitable territories and planning to build nests and raise their young, and backyard birders can take steps to meet all those needs and invite hummingbirds to stay nearby.

  • Clean hummingbird feeders and fill them with fresh nectar at least one week before hummingbirds are expected to arrive, to give even early arrivals a good food source to use. In colder areas, it may be necessary to take steps to keep hummingbird nectar from freezing until spring is more advanced.
  • Plant early-blooming, nectar-rich flowers that will provide a natural food source for hummingbirds. If it is too early in the season for flowers to thrive, add potted flowers to the yard instead to provide temporary color and nectar until other plants bloom.
  • Add more color to the backyard with a red gazing ball or other garden decorations that can help attract hummingbirds' attention. This will let them know that food and shelter is readily available nearby, even if the garden is not yet recovered from winter's fury.
  • Avoid over-pruning plants and trees in spring so hummingbirds will have plentiful perches to take advantage of when surveying territory or watching for competition and rivals. Small bare twigs are ideal, and hummingbirds will also perch on clotheslines or small "swings" designed for their tiny feet.
  • Provide all-natural cotton fluff or similar nesting material hummingbirds can readily use. If possible, avoid spraying for spiders or disturbing spider webs, as spider silk is a common bonding material hummingbirds use to keep their nests intact but flexible.

A prepared birder will see hummingbirds sooner then they think, and by taking steps to be ready for spring hummingbirds, you'll be able to enjoy these beautiful birds all season long.

Learn more about hummingbirds!