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Spring hummingbird migration

Hummingbirds are some of the most hotly anticipated spring birds, and while they aren't the first birds to return every spring, they are a sure sign that winter is over. But when will hummingbirds come back?

Eastern Hummingbird Migration

In the east, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only common hummingbird species. These fiery flying jewels arrive in southern and central Florida as early as late February, and they make their way north to Georgia and along the Gulf Coast by mid-March. By mid-May, they have reached the northernmost extent of their breeding range in southern Canada and northern parts of North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, and Maine.

To track ruby-throated hummingbird migration, check out this year's migration map at Hummingbirds.net. Previous years' maps are also available for comparison.

Western Hummingbird Migration

In the west, several types of hummingbird species migrate seasonally. The rufous hummingbird is one of the earliest migrants because it has the furthest to go – these tiny birds spend the winter in southern Mexico but travel as far as Alaska to breed. They begin appearing along the California coast in late February or early March, and the first returning migrants reach the southern parts of their breeding range in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia by mid-March, with more and more birds appearing as spring strengthens.

Calliope hummingbirds migrate slightly later than rufous hummingbirds, but depending on how well a backyard bird is watching for their returning guests, they may spot calliopes or other species before they see a passing rufous hummingbird. In the inland mountain ranges of the broad-tailed hummingbird and black-chinned hummingbird, migration is significantly later, but these hummers begin to appear in the southern parts of their breeding range in Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas as early as late February or early March.

Be Ready for Spring Hummingbirds

To be ready for returning hummingbirds, clean out hummingbird feeders and fill them with fresh nectar. Put feeders out a week or two before the first hummingbirds are expected to be sure there is adequate food for the earliest migrants, but if nighttime temperatures are still chilly, take steps to keep the nectar from freezing so it is accessible to the birds. Plant early-blooming flowers, or if planting isn't possible early in spring, buy potted flowers or hanging baskets to provide an instant food source for the birds to use, bringing the flowers inside at night to keep them from freezing.

When the first spring hummingbirds appear in your yard, winter is definitely over and better weather is on the way. Being ready for these flying jewels is essential to keep them coming back – hummingbirds have excellent memories for available food sources, and if they know they can rely on your yard for a great spring buffet, you'll see them right on time every year.