Where to See Hummingbirds

Golden-Tailed Sapphire

Fernando Flores/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

Hummingbirds are attractive, desirable additions to any birder's life list. With more than 300 species spread from Canada to Argentina, it would seem easy to see these birds, but their diminutive size and speedy flight can make them hard to spot. Knowing where to go to see more hummingbird species with superior views can help interested birders plan their travel for a hummingbird-rich experience.

Hummingbird Habitats

While hummingbirds might be widespread throughout the New World, it is important to understand hummingbird habitats in order to successfully find these birds. Depending on the species, hummingbirds can thrive in arid desert scrub and prairies to forest edges, tropical rainforests, riparian corridors, and even urban and suburban backyards. The greatest diversity of hummingbirds is found in tropical regions, however, where both nectar-rich flowers and insect populations are abundant throughout the year. Visiting the most hummingbird-friendly areas is essential to see more species in shorter periods of time.

Where to See Wild Hummingbirds

Because of these birds' adaptability to a wide range of habitats, just visiting proper habitats does not do enough to improve one's chance of seeing hummingbirds. Certain areas, however, are more well known for hosting diverse hummingbird populations.

No matter where you are visiting, if you choose locations with abundant native flowering plants and eco-friendly landscaping practices that minimize chemical use, you are more likely to see hummingbirds. Plan birding walks in these types of areas to add hummingbirds to your life list:

  • Botanical gardens
  • Native plant gardens and nurseries
  • Butterfly gardens
  • Undisturbed, old-growth habitat
  • Urban parks with extensive flower gardens

Visiting these areas when flowers are in full bloom and nectar is more abundant will make hummingbird sightings more fantastically frequent.

While hummingbirds can be seen anywhere in the New World – North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean – some regions are more well known for their abundant and diverse hummingbird residents, including:

  • Madera Canyon, Arizona: Investigate local bed-and-breakfast inns and lodges that offer accommodations to birders, and enjoy the benefits of hummingbird feeders that draw in multiple species.
  • Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, Bisbee, Arizona: A hub for scientific research involving hummingbirds, this facility not only has multiple feeders to attract hummingbirds but also offers guided walks for seeing these tiny birds.
  • Huachuca Mountains, Arizona: Another area of diverse habitats that are home to multiple hummingbird species, these mountains are also home to many lodges and hotels that provide a convenient base for hummingbird watching.
  • Rio Grande Valley, Texas: The southernmost tip of Texas, this region is home to the buff-bellied hummingbird and ruby-throated hummingbird. Regular vagrants of several tropical species are reported each year as well.
  • Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, Montego Bay, Jamaica: A private residence that welcomes visitors, this sanctuary is a one-of-a-kind experience where birders can hand-feed hummingbirds including the national bird of Jamaica, the red-billed streamertail.

In addition to these well-known locations, most birder-oriented accommodations in tropical destinations such as Peru, Costa Rica, and Ecuador are excellent places to see hummingbirds. Understanding the draw these birds hold and the economic importance of avitourism, many locations keep nectar feeders filled and viewing areas ready for visiting birders to add hummingbirds to their life list. Several communities also plan hummingbird festivals to take advantage of great viewing, and those events can be prime opportunities for birders to see more hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds in Captivity

Hummingbirds do not generally do well in captivity, and their small size makes them hard to care for in zoos and aviaries. Nevertheless, there are facilities worldwide that have managed to make comfortable homes for hummingbirds, giving more birders the opportunity to see these amazing birds. While captive birds do not count on a life list, they can offer spectacular viewing, study, and photography opportunities, and these zoos and similar facilities are well worth visiting:

  • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Butterfly World (Coconut Creek, Florida)
  • Copenhagen Zoo (Copenhagen, Denmark)
  • Miami Metrozoo (Miami, Florida)
  • North Carolina Zoological Park (Asheboro, North Carolina)
  • San Diego Zoo (San Diego, California)
  • Vogelpark Avifauna (Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands)
  • ZSL London Zoo (London, England)

While these zoos are known for captive hummingbirds, displays often change, and the birds might not always be available. At the same time, it is always worthwhile to visit zoos and aviaries in areas with wild hummingbirds because the native landscaping and wildlife-friendly nature of these facilities often attract wild hummingbirds to gardens and flowerbeds.

Adding hummingbirds to your life list can be easier than you think once you understand how widespread hummingbirds are and how to find areas where multiple species are concentrated for easy viewing. Of course, don't forget to take steps to attract hummingbirds, and you'll be rewarded with these tiny birds right in your own backyard as well, making it easier than ever to see and enjoy them.