Most birders who set up bird feeders in their backyard are very eager to experience their first sighting of the season, but most new birders aren’t sure how early is too early to set up a nectar bird feeder. So when is the best time to put out hummingbird feeders? While there’s no exact date, there are some basic guidelines that you can use to determine when to buy this type of feeder, when to clean one, and when to have it up and ready to go. You’ll also get some great tips on where to place your feeders, in order to increase the chances of your visitors quickly locating them, and placement that will give you the best view, from afar.

Spring is Here

Spring is usually the time that most birding enthusiasts buy or pull out last year’s nectar feeders. But before you buy the supplies and mix up a batch of nectar, there are some factors to consider.

March is usually the best time to set up a feeder in southern areas, which is where hummingbirds tend to arrive early. In the north, at the end of March is usually the perfect time. The majority of backyard birders plan on pulling out their feeders at the first sign of spring but don’t count on March being the right time every year. If you’ve had a relatively mild winter and the spring is warmer than usual, causing flowers to bloom much sooner, then you can expect to see hummingbirds in your yard a week or two earlier that year. If it’s been an unusually hard winter with frequent late season storms, this can put a delay in the bird’s migration schedule. But weather won’t have too much of an impact on their migration schedule, just anticipate a difference of five to seven days. Instead of weather, the amount of daylight and the light levels are what seem to trigger the hummingbird’s instincts for migration.

How Many Nectar Feeders Do I Need?

Hummingbird flying

Did you know that a hummingbird is able to remember the best feeding spots, year after year? The longer you’ve fed this species, the more that will show up. This means that you’ll need to expand your supply of nectar feeders each year since you’ll be feeding more every year. Putting out a couple of these feeders each spring is perfectly fine, however, if you’ve noticed an increase in the number of hummingbirds that are visiting your yard throughout the day, you should definitely purchase one or two extra feeders.

Use Your Journal

If you keep a birding journal, make sure you keep track of when these birds visit, beginning with your first sighting of the season and how many birds visit your yard in a single day. You can also use a calendar to keep track of this type of important information. Every year, mark on your calendar the first day you see a hummingbird at your feeders. This way you can compare the dates each year and determine when the right time is to pull out the feeders. You may also be pretty impressed by how hummingbirds tend to come back around within a day or two of the previous year. If you’d like to learn more about birding journals and how to keep track of the sightings of these birds, their feeding habits, and population, click here to learn how to make a birdwatching journal.

Proper Setup

Regardless of how many birds you’re expecting this upcoming spring or how many feeders you want to put out each year, it’s always better to set your feeders up early than it is to set them up even a few days late. If you put a feeder out and there haven’t been any visitors, you’ll only lose a few ounces of nectar that will need to be replaced since nectar slowly spoils. But if you put the feeders out too late, then the birds will come to your yard and think that your yard is no longer offering a reliable food source, so they’ll quickly move on. When you put your feeders out earlier than you normally do, you may be surprised at the early visitors, while putting your feeders out later will be a major disappointment since you aren’t likely to have very many birds stop by.

Other Feeding Options

In some areas where hummingbirds are nonmigratory, you can leave your feeders out year-round. Additionally, some parts of the country will also have hummingbirds who are overwintering in your part of the country, if you enjoy warmer winters. Birders in southern British Columbia and the pacific coast of the United States can feed these birds all year long. Southern Texas and Central Florida, in addition to southeastern Arizona are also places where hummingbirds can be fed all year long.

In the Southern United States, migration will begin early, around late February and early March. Areas that are in the deep south, such as Georgia, may see birds earlier than normal, usually during the third week of February.

Birds will begin to appear in the central United States as early as mid-March if the birds are heading to breeding grounds. Ruby-throated hummingbirds will definitely appreciate birders who set out their feeders earlier.

Signs You Should Set Out Your Nectar Feeders

Regardless of your local climate or where you live, there are some basic clues that you can look for that will indicate it’s time to set out your feeders. These signs include:

  • Local sightings
  • Trees have swelled with buds or the first flowers bloom
  • Arriving migrating birds
  • Your birding journal from the previous year indicated that hummingbirds arrived much earlier than anticipated

These birds tend to be very predictable with their departure and arrival days. Learning when these birds tend to migrate is the easiest and most accurate way to judge when you need to set up your backyard feeders in preparation of their upcoming arrival. Remember, keeping your own birding journal, or even relying on the journals of fellow birders, will give you a good indication of what time of year to put your feeders out, in addition to how many birds you can expect and how many more feeders you need to purchase. To learn more about these intelligent birds, click here to read my article on how do hummingbirds find feeders.

Maintenance

It’s important to stay on top of feeder maintenance and even the best hummingbird feeders will need to be cleaned out from time to time, especially during the spring. In the spring, you can fill the feeders half full in order to avoid wasting nectar. Those new to feeding hummingbirds may mistakenly believe that they need to purchase commercial nectar. However, the big problem here is the fact that these nectars contain dyes that can be harmful to birds. Fortunately, you can easily make your own nectar, or you can also search for a nectar that’s dye-free.

When you’ve finally hung your feeders, you’ll need to clean it out and change the nectar as frequently as every four to five days in order to prevent the unused nectar from spoiling. A hummingbird will not consume spoiled nectar and will quickly stop coming to your yard once word spreads that your nectar is no good.

Many models of nectar feeders are easy to clean, however, brushes specifically designed to clean this type of feeder will make the job much easier.

Placement

When you’re setting out your feeders, there’s a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. For starters, you’ll need to determine where to place them. They should be located in an area where the birds can easily find them, such as near flowering plants. The feeders should also be located in an area that allows you to watch hummingbird activity from afar. It should also be kept out of direct sunlight in order to slow down the fermentation process. If you realize you don’t like where the feeders are located, once birds have visited them, you’ll need to slowly relocate them in order to prevent the birds from being unable to find them the next time they visit your yard. As I mentioned earlier, these birds are able to remember a reliable food source. If you’re new to feeding this species, if possible speak to an experienced birder who knows more about their feeding needs and habits for advice regarding the best place to set up your feeders.

Final Thoughts

Learning about the best time to put out hummingbird feeders will increase your chances of having new visitors come spring. Remember, it’s better to put the feeders out early than it is to put them out too late in the season. These highly intelligent animals will remember whether or not your yard is a great spot for regular feedings, so if you want to encourage more visitors for the upcoming season, it’s best to prepare early and ensure you have all the supplies and feeding stations set up for any early guests.