If you are a birder who loves watching hummingbirds every spring, then providing a consistent source of nectar is the ideal way to attract hummingbirds to you. The tricky part is figuring out the best time to start feeding hummingbirds. Each region is different, weather patterns shift, and bird migration periods are reliant on the climate and environmental factors. Take a look at some ways to determine the best time to put out your hummingbird feeders so no nectar gets wasted and hummingbirds are fed.
Factors Affecting When Hummingbirds Appear
While feeding birds can be a year-round joy, many hummingbirds are migratory. It isn't necessary to offer nectar when the birds aren't around. The seasonal habits of hummingbirds vary depending on the region, climate, and migration.
Some southern and coastal regions of the United States and Mexico, as well as much of the Caribbean and South America, are home to hungry hummingbirds year-round. In those areas, anytime is a good time to put out nectar feeders. In other regions, the best time to put out hummingbird feeders depends on the time of year and local hummingbird population.
Climate and Temperature
Mild climates and warmer areas are attractive to hummingbirds in early spring. In those areas, it is best to start feeding hummingbirds earlier, so they always have a good nectar source to visit. In areas with cooler temperatures and later springs, bring out the feeders when it starts to warm up.
Learning when hummingbirds migrate (differs between 300 species) is a great way to decide when to put out hummingbird feeders. Sunlight is the most essential factor that determines the timing of hummingbird migration. As the light levels change seasonally, hummingbirds purposefully eat more, increasing their weight by 25 to 40 percent. Their weight gain gets them ready for flying long distances.
If the birds are on the move, they will need good nectar sources for refueling and will readily visit clean, fresh feeders along the way. For early migrants, the presence of a reliable feeder can make the difference for a successful migration when flowers aren't yet in full bloom or not having enough food to complete the migration.
When to Start Feeding Hummingbirds
While the exact dates to put out hummingbird feeders can vary, these birds do tend to be reliable in their migration patterns and when they start visiting feeders.
Offer hummingbird feeders all year long in areas where these birds are non-migratory or where overwintering hummingbirds join residents during the winter months. Birders along the Pacific coast of the United States and southern British Columbia can feed hummers all year. The Rio Grande Valley area of south Texas and along the southern Texas coast, south and central Florida, and southeastern Arizona are also year-round hummingbird hotspots. In the Caribbean and Central and South America, where many hummingbirds do not migrate, year-round feeding is also ideal.
February and March (Southern U.S.)
Hummingbird migration begins early in the southern United States. Areas in the Deep South, including north Florida and south Georgia, can put out hummingbird feeders as soon as the middle to late February or early March and expect to be visited by the first arriving migrants.
March and April (Central U.S.)
Early migrating hummingbirds that are heading to breeding grounds further north begin appearing in the central United States as soon as the middle to late March and early April. Ruby-throated hummingbirds and rufous hummingbirds will appreciate feeders in these regions.
April and May (Northern U.S.)
Hummingbirds begin to reach their northern ranges in late April or early May. It is best if all birders have their hummingbird feeders cleaned, refilled, and ready for thirsty guests no later than the first week of May.
May and June (Canada and Alaska)
In the furthest northern reaches of hummingbird ranges, the birds do not arrive until late spring or early summer. In the central Canadian range of the calliope hummingbird or the Alaskan territory of the rufous hummingbird, you can wait until mid-May or very early June to put out hummingbird feeders. Birders should always be on the lookout for earlier arrivals, however, and get the feeders ready to serve them.
Regional Clues for Feeding Hummingbirds
No matter where you live, local climates vary, and seasons can come early or late. Some natural clues or indicators that can help you determine when to start feeding hummingbirds include:
- Flowers begin to bloom, and tree buds begin to swell
- Other migrating birds arrive, particularly warblers, buntings, and other neotropical migrants
- Local hummingbird sightings or regional records by other birders in your area
- Review your records in a birding journal about previous years' arrival dates. Hummingbirds, like most migrant birds, can be very predictable with their arrival and departure dates. Expect a few days of variation from year to year.
Better Early Than Late
It is better to put out hummingbird feeders earlier rather than later. Do not wait to see the first hummingbirds before getting feeders ready, as this will likely be too late to attract the earliest migrants.
These birds have amazing geographical memories for reliable food sources. Once hummingbirds find your feeders, they will continue to visit year after year. If the feeders are missing, the birds are likely to move on to another option; they may not readily return to an unpredictable food source.
If you put the nectar out too early, at worst, you may worry about the nectar freezing during a late winter or early spring cold snap. Replace old or spoiled nectar once or twice before the birds arrive.