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Over the Garden Fence

Hummingbirds are on the move

humming bird

Every spring, I look forward to the return of the hummingbirds. Their aerial antics around the feeder, zooming by with iridescent flashes of green, red, and white, chasing each other with the precision of a tiny fighter jet – they always brighten my day. When will they return and, more importantly, when – and what – should you be feeding them?

Natural History

The most common species of hummingbird in Illinois is the Ruby Throated Hummingbird. Their tiny size and iridescent green feathers with the white (female) or red (male) gorget on their throat makes them unmistakable. While it may be possible to see another species, especially during migration, it’s very unlikely. Potential sightings should be photographed (if possible) and reported somewhere like iNaturalist or your local Extension office.


Hummingbirds spend the winters in Mexico. As the weather warms, they begin making their way north again. You can follow their journey  – and report sightings – on the interactive map at Hummingbird Central. As of the first week of March, they seem to be making their way along the Gulf Coast and are almost to central Alabama. In 2023, the first hummingbirds were sighted in Northern Illinois around April 12. If the mild winter continues here, we can expect to see them around the same time this year, or possibly a little earlier.

Providing a Hummingbird Buffet

One sure way to see hummingbirds each year is to make sure you’re providing them with plenty of food options. The easiest is to put out a hummingbird feeder. Key features to look for are a red color somewhere on the feeder, easy disassembly for cleaning, and bee and ant guards.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, so having a feeder that is red will help them find it. Regularly cleaning feeder is critical in helping to maintain the health of the birds, especially in the summer. Having bee and ant guards will help to make sure that you’re feeding the birds, instead of the bugs. Some wasps will be attracted to the nectar and can chase away birds. Also, if they can get in, they may not be able to get out and will cause the nectar to spoil more quickly.

Making your own nectar is quick and easy. Boil one-part sugar in four-parts water (i.e. ¼ cup sugar in 1 cup of water). Let cool and then fill clean feeder with a few inches of the solution. The remaining solution can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. Clean and refill the feeder every few days, or more often if it’s above 80 degrees F. Hummingbirds have been known to return year after year to the same spot looking for food.

An easier way to provide food for them is to grow plants they love in your yard or in containers. Hummingbirds like trumpet-shaped flowers with a lot of nectar. Flowers such as columbine, bee balm, foxglove beardtongue, and trumpet vine are all favorites. Blue iris and liatris are also great options. Annuals like fuchsia, petunias, and impatiens also can help provide nectar before the perennials have started blooming and look great in hanging baskets.

Don’t forget that hummingbirds also need insects in their diet! Planting yarrow, milkweed, and plants with clustered flowers often attract ants and other small insects that they can eat.

For more information on gardening, check out the University of Illinois Extension at Also, check out the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture YouTube Channel for videos on other horticulture topics.


About the author: Jamie Viebach is the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator serving DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties. Viebach’s primary areas of expertise are native plants, landscaping, pollinators, and rain gardens.