Hummingbirds arrive a month--sometimes two--early this year; some never left

Hummingbird at American Museum of Natural History by By Ed Gaillard

Since December a rufous hummingbird has been hanging around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park in Manhattan, becoming a subject of fascination and fear of New York birders. Sure this delicate little bird would die, birders debated a rescue. But this bird seems to have weathered the mild winter. Now hummingbirds are flying into their northern breeding grounds a month, sometimes two, ahead of schedule.

In just the last week ruby-throated hummingbirds shown up in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ontario. Normally they’d just be flying through South Carolina and Oklahoma. Twenty two states got their first reported hummingbirds in March this year (as of March 24). They’re two months early for far northern locales like the parts of Ontario, New Hampshire, New York on the Canadian border and central Wisconsin. They don’t usually reach those locales until May.

The AMNH Rufous (as it’s known) wasn’t even the only one that overwintered in the north. Even though all hummingbirds are fragile, this species is known as kind of bold and bullying at the feeders. eBird shows rufous hummingbirds spending January across the north: Youngstown, OH; Pittsburgh; Oak Park, IL; Grand Rapids; Youngstown; Dinwiddle, VA  and Bennington, VT.

We’ve long known changing climates have changed the migration schedules by a week or two. But to have species off by a month or two in one year is truly stunning. We can’t know if the birds stayed around because they somehow sensed it would be a mild winter, have learned to depend on feeders or if these were individuals that didn’t have the wherewithal for the long trip and just lucked out. The males tend to lead the migration so they can stake out a good territory. Maybe the longer season will mean more hummingbirds have a chance to raise a second brood this year.

If you normally offer hummingbirds feeders or nectary flowers when it gets hot, you better just put out the spread now. Those little travelers will be hungry.

Check out’s very cool advice on attracting hummingbirds and using feeders


pelicanpuffinhummingbird Where to SEE WEIRD BIRDS (All the interesting birds: pelicans, puffins, prairie chickens, vultures, hummingbirds)

The dates when the Ruby Throated Hummingbird First Sightings

This year's first sightings

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6 comments to Hummingbirds arrive a month–sometimes two–early this year; some never left

  • Velia Johnson

    I was on holiday and visited Central Park and was very excited to see a hummingbird. Visiting various web sites I see they are visiters to most areas of America. 22nd August 2012

  • Michelle

    I’ve had a lot of activity at my feeder this summer in Central Illiois. We had a storm that brought cooler temps a week ago and now there is no activity at the feeder. Hope they haven’t migrated already! Seems too early.

  • Bonnie

    I was amazed to spot a rufous hummingbird at my butterfly bush! It was a male and smaller than the usual ruby throated hummingbirds at my feeders every day. I live in southeastern MA

  • Ann Kochendorfer

    I’ve noticed this year a lot of fighting between hummingbirds. Are more staking out territory than usual?

  • Judy

    We, outside of Richmond, VA have only seen 2 hummingbirds this year. They were early March instead of late April. By late June we usually have them sitting on the nearby branch waiting their turns for the feeders but this year haven’t seen any since April. Our neighbors report similar.

  • […] who runs says hummingbirders have been debating what’s going on with this freakishly early migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds and the consensus is that most of the birds are still sensibly waiting down south to be sure they […]