It’s Hummingbird Week. What—never heard of it?
Well, that’s probably because we just made it up. Yep, turns out we’re big hummingbird people. Like many other Michiganders, we’ve been closely following along with this nifty Hummingbird Central map, where we’re tracking the early arrivals of the first hummingbirds to Michigan. And with a camera in one hand and gardening glove on the other, we vow to be ready when one of the tiny birds comes humming into our backyard.
To prepare for their annual migration from warmer climates—like Florida and the Caribbean—to Michigan to mate, nest, and raise their young, we reached out to Audubon Great Lakes to answer your top questions about hummingbirds.
Answering Your Questions
When can I expect to see hummingbirds in lower Michigan?
The time is now. Hummingbirds migrating to Michigan start to trickle in from mid-April to early May. For the southern lower peninsula, they’ll show up in peak numbers in mid-May. Expect to see them further north in late May.
In August or September, they’ll migrate back south to areas like Florida, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
Here’s a tip—keep your feeder up for any procrastinators, because there will be some.
“We often tell people if you’re taking care of hummingbirds already in your yard, then leave your hummingbird feeder up late because that could be the only food source available that time of year,” said Stephanie Beilke, senior manager for conservation science at Audubon Great Lakes.
Why do hummingbirds come to Michigan?
This is a natural migration for hummingbirds as they come northward to choose a mate, nest, and raise their chicks. Hummingbirds typically settle into one nest each migration.
Northern summers provide a hospitable habitat, where food is plentiful and there’s less competition. It’s a win-win.
“When they’re done, the chicks are independent and they’re feeding on their own,” Beilke said. “Then they’ll pretty much be ready to start moving south already.”
What type or types of hummingbirds do we see in Michigan?
In Michigan, we mainly see only the ruby-throated hummingbird. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are sexually dimorphic—meaning that the males and females have different appearances. Males are the ones with the ruby throat. Females have a white throat. Both have a slick dark green coat of feathers. Colors on ruby-throated hummingbirds are iridescent—meaning they reflect light. While feathers can appear to be darker at first, when seen in good light, they’ll glow.
But while the ruby-throated hummingbird is the main species you’ll find in Michigan, they’re not the only one. The rufous hummingbird is another. They look quite different from ruby-throated hummingbirds—males have a primarily copper-orange color on their backs and an iridescent throat, while females may have some orange coloring but are primarily white with a green crown. If a rufous hummingbird shows up in Michigan, it’s probably because it’s lost. They prefer to be out west.
Other western hummingbird species may get lost and linger in Michigan, too, especially in the fall.
To see hummingbird species hotspots, Beilke recommends checking out eBird. Their map function can help you know where to look.
How can I best see hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds are very fast and very small, so they can be hard to spot. But Beilke says there may be more hummingbirds around than you realize. As much as you’re keeping an eye out, she recommends keeping an ear out, too. An odd buzz you hear in the air could be from the fast-paced fluttering of hummingbird wings—they flap 200 times per second. And their vocalizations take the form of a high-pitch twittering sound.
“It can be pretty tricky sometimes because they’re really small and they’re very, very fast,” Beilke said. “I think many people would be surprised that there’s probably more hummingbirds around them than they realize.”
If you think you’re missing them because your yard is simply inhospitable to hummingbirds, think again.
“They will nest and breed and do pretty well even in suburban and urban areas as long as there’s plenty of foliage and flowers, and at least one person putting out a feeder,” Beilke said.
If you’re interested in hosting hummingbirds, Beilke recommends following these simple do’s and don’ts.
Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting Hummingbirds
DO plant native flowers, trees, and everything in-between. This is the single-best way you can support hummingbirds, ecologists say. Hummingbirds come here with a specific type of food in mind—and they developed that taste long before we carved out cities, manicured lawns, and farmland. Like bees, hummingbirds play an important role as pollinators, so if you grow native plants, you’ll be supporting a Michigan habitat that pre-dates any of us—and a vibrant, colorful, healthy Michigan ecosystem that we all benefit from.
- Examples of native plants: Beebalm, trumpet honeysuckle, wild bergamot, and cardinal flower to start. To find more more, use this Audubon native plant searcher. It’s as easy as entering your zip code.
- Think of it this way: Hummingbird feeders give hummingbirds a reason to stop by your garden. Native plants give them a reason to hang around, and to come back tomorrow.
DO put out hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds will thank you for the treat! Of course, hummingbirds love nectar—and instead of spending money at a store for a mix that might not be as high quality, you can make nectar at home. It’s just one part sugar for four parts of hot water, and then stir till the mixture is consistent—yes, it’s that easy.
- DO NOT put out hummingbird food or nectar with artificial ingredients or red food dye. Try a red feeder instead.
- DO NOT use honey or any artificial sweeteners. “It’s just the simpler, the better for these birds,” Beilke said.
DO clean out your feeders at least once a week. This goes for any bird feeder. If you don’t clean out feeders, food sources can ferment or cake up, making them less appealing—or even harmful—to visitors.
- To clean your feeders, simply use one part white vinegar to four parts water, and dry out.
DO leave out clean water as well. Hey, hummingbirds could use a drink after a long day of pollinating. Bird baths—especially shallow bird baths—are great for hummingbirds. Naturally flowing sources of water are even better, if you happen to live by one.
DO NOT use any pesticides or chemicals. These are dangerous to hummingbirds and all animals. Hummingbirds feed on bugs as well as nectar, so a natural yard is also more likely to attract hummingbirds.
DO NOT take down your hummingbird feeders too soon. Even though high time for hummingbirds is in the summer, don’t assume that all have made their way out of Michigan by the early fall. While most start returning south in August or September, the occasional odd bird might stay around until the weather cools even further, for whatever reason. Especially for those leaving later in the year, food can be in short supply, and feeders will be a great resource to them.
Are hummingbirds really birds, or is their name some sort of misnomer?
They are definitely just tiny birds, not insects. But there is fair reason for wondering—hummingbirds’ use and functionality of their wings more closely resembles that of insects. If you watch a slo-mo video of a hummingbird, you’ll notice its wings can move with a dexterity that other birds don’t have. That’s why hummingbirds can even fly backward!
The smallest bird in the world is also a hummingbird, and it’s funnily enough named “the bee hummingbird.”
What else should I know about hummingbirds?
Well, there are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, but they’re only found in the western hemisphere. And ruby-throated hummingbirds—the ones that nest in Michigan—have their own claim to fame.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, ruby-throated hummingbirds can flap their wings 200 times in a second, the fastest pace of any species of bird—hummingbird or not.
BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE MICHIGAN—First, he wanted to ban transgender health care for adults and children, and now has speculated about wanting...
President Joe Biden on Friday issued a stark reminder about what’s at stake in the November election following a news report revealing that Donald...
BY ANNA LIZ NICHOLS, MICHIGAN ADVANCE MICHIGAN—Voters with disabilities can access new voter education videos featuring American Sign Language on...
MICHIGAN—Cannabis is a big deal in Michigan—and there’s never a shortage of newsworthy headlines from the industry as the state inches closer to...
Get started on your next date night itinerary with our roundup of dining and drinking destinations in Metro Detroit that are designed with grownups...