Hummingbird Migration in Virginia

When Do Hummingbirds Arrive in Virginia?

Virginia’s migrating hummingbirds begin arriving April 1st and continue north to their preferred nesting area, somewhere near their own birth.
The last of Virginia’s spring migrating hummingbirds are gone by mid-June, however, many will stay for the rest of the summer.

Virginia does not have any hummingbirds that stay in Virginia year-round, however, hummingbirds have been documented in neighboring West Virginia as late as January.

The most common hummingbird seen in Virginia is the Ruby-throated hummingbird.

On average, out of 10,000 hummingbird sightings in Virginia, 9,883 will be Ruby-throated, 87 will be Rufous, and 12 will be Calliope sightings.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Adult Male Rufous Hummingbird
Adult Male and 2 Juvenile Calliope Hummingbirds

Beginning their northern journey from as far away as Panama, or as close as Mexico, migrating hummingbirds arrive in Virginia in the first week of April, some late migrators may arrive as late as early June, but by the end of June, all hummingbirds that are migrating further than Virginia are gone from Virginia.

The first migrating hummingbirds will be males followed by the females about a week later. The males arrive first to stake out the territory that they will defend as they try to attract a female.

Keep your eye out for the brightly colored gorget of the male, the females will start showing up at your feeders about a week later.
See my article: How to Identify a Hummingbird’s Gender in 4 Easy Steps

Hummingbirds starting their spring migration from Panama need to fly about 3,200 miles over landmass to reach Virginia.
If they decide to fly over the Gulf of Mexico they will need to fly only 2,000 miles to reach Virginia.

Hummingbirds starting their journey from Mexico need to fly about 1,600 miles to reach Virginia.

What Hummingbirds Breed and Nest in Virginia?

There is only one hummingbird that breeds and nests in Virginia, the Ruby-throated hummingbird.

See Ruby-throated breeding map.

The entire reason for northern migration, much like salmon swimming upstream to their place of birth to lay eggs, is to return to the area where they were born. There the female builds a nest, mates, and raises a family.

Once the female hummingbird reaches the breeding grounds the focus turns to building a nest and then finding a partner with which to mate.

Female hummingbirds prefer building nests 10 to 20 feet off the ground in deciduous trees.

It will take her between 5 and 7 days to construct the nest of materials such as plant down, moss, and fine plant fibers, decorated with lichens and held together by spider webs.
See my article: Hummingbird Parents: (Mating to Nesting)
See my article: Baby Hummingbirds: (Egg to Fledgling)

Each species of male hummingbirds has its own unique mating dance ritual of courtship to attract a female. They do perfectly choreographed dives and dance maneuvers to attract a flirty female.
See my article: Hummingbird Dance: 5 Interpretive Explanations

There is no penetration during the mating ritual as male hummingbirds do not have any external sexual organs.

The hummingbird mating process only lasts for approximately 3-5 seconds while the cloacae (kloh-ay-see) of both hummingbirds are pressed together in what is called the “Cloacal Kiss” (kloh-a-coal kiss).

After the Cloacal kiss, the female must begin building the nest immediately.

Female hummingbirds prefer building nests 10 to 20 feet off the ground in deciduous trees.

It will take her between 5 and 7 days to construct the nest of materials such as plant down, moss, and fine plant fibers, decorated with lichens and held together by spider webs.
See my article: Hummingbird Parents: (Mating to Nesting)
See my article: Baby Hummingbirds: (Egg to Fledgling)

Hummingbirds usually lay 2 eggs per brood, one each on consecutive days.

Most hummingbirds have 2 broods per year, but depending on migration timing and day-length time in their nesting destinations, some hummingbirds can have more than 2 broods per year.

In Virginia, nesting hummingbirds usually have 2 broods per year but some may have time to work in a third brood.

When Should I Put Out Hummingbird Feeders in Virginia?

Virginia hummingbird enthusiasts should put out hummingbird feeders in the middle of March to attract the earliest arriving migrating hummingbirds.
Many Virginia hummingbird enthusiasts leave their hummingbird feeders up all year for the old, injured, or cold-tolerant hummingbirds.

There are no hummingbirds classified as year-round in Virginia, however, hummingbirds are documented as being seen in neighboring West Virginia as late as the month of January.
See my article: 8 Hummingbirds Found in Virginia: (Pictures and Sounds)

Male hummingbirds will be the first to arrive followed by female hummingbirds about a week later.

Migrating hummingbirds will continue to arrive in Virginia until about mid-June.
Hummingbirds seen in Virginia after mid-June will be hummingbirds that will spend their entire summer in Virginia.

Be sure to fill your hummingbird feeders with good quality nectar solutions, making your own feeder nectar is best.
See my article: Forget Commercial Hummingbird Food, Try Making Homemade Nectar
See my article: The One Thing You Need to Eliminate From a Hummingbird’s Diet

How Long Do Hummingbirds Stay in Virginia?

There are no hummingbirds that live in Virginia year-round.
Virginia’s earliest migrating hummingbirds will start arriving in mid-March and most will be gone by October although some may be seen as late as January.

Hummingbirds are much more tolerant than most people believe.
According to eBird.org, some banded hummingbirds have been documented in temperatures of -9 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -36 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some normally migrating seasonal hummingbirds choosing to over-winter in Virginia, or too old or injured to migrate, will be the only likely hummingbirds Virginian hummingbird enthusiasts will see during the winter.

The most likely migrating hummingbird that might choose to spend the winter in Virginia would be a Ruby-throated or Rufous hummingbird.

Hummingbirds have exceptional memories and will remember every flower or feeder they visited on the spring migration and will return to those nectar sources on their return to southern migration in the fall.
See my article: Hummingbird Adaptation and Remarkable Ability to Locate Food

The most common hummingbirds Virginians will see during the hot summer months will be the Ruby-throated hummingbird with the Rufous hummingbird being a distant second.

When the obstacles of the summer heat are difficult to manage and unbearable, finding ways to keep your hummingbirds happy and hydrated with cool nectar can be critical.
See my article: How to Help Hummingbirds in Hot Weather

When Do Hummingbirds Leave Virginia?

Virginia’s migrating hummingbirds begin leaving the state in late August, migrating south to their over-wintering areas in Mexico and Central America.
Virginia’s migrating hummingbirds will all be gone by mid-November.
No hummingbirds live in Virginia year-round.

The older hummingbirds will be the first to start the fall migration in late August with the youngest hummingbirds finishing the fall migration by mid-November, according to an article from the University of Southern Mississippi.

This elongated migration time frame ensures late straggling migrants have enough food available to fuel their bodies before making the long taxing migration south for the winter.

Some migrating hummingbirds Virginians will possibly see during the winter are migrating hummingbirds that are too old or injured to migrate.

Hummingbird migration is triggered by the circadian (internal daily clock) and the circannual (internal yearly clock) rhythm.

Changes in the weather, temperature, time of the season, the decline in the food supply, and decreased amount of sunlight because of shortening days are all factors that trigger an individual hummingbird’s instinct to migrate.

As with spring migration, male hummingbirds are the first to begin the southern migration in the fall. The female migrating hummingbirds will begin their southern fall migration as soon as they have completed raising their offspring to the ability to migrate themselves.

How Long Does It Take a Virginia Hummingbird to Migrate?

It takes a Virginia hummingbird 53 hours of flying at its average migrating flight speed of 30mph to fly to the most distant Mexican border 1,600 miles away.
Hummingbirds migrating to Panama will need 107 hours to fly over 3,200 miles of landmass or 67 hours if they fly 2,000 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.

Some fly at the relaxed distance as slow as 1 hour per day, others fly up to 500 miles non-stop in about 20 hours as some do while migrating across the Gulf of Mexico.

Hummingbirds do not migrate in flocks as do other migrating birds.
Hummingbirds migrate individually on their own personal time clock.

This staggered migration pattern ensures resources are not consumed and depleted all at one time.

As migration approaches, hummingbirds routinely gain 25% to 50% of their body weight by consuming increased quantities of nectar from feeders and flowering plants as well as catching an increased quantity of bugs mid-air for protein.

This increase in body fat helps fuel the hummingbird on its long migration journey.

Expect to see an increased volume of southern migrating hummingbird visitors to your feeders in Virginia during this fall migration from September through October.

The hummingbirds that visited your feeders during the spring migration will remember exactly where your feeder is located and will most likely revisit that same feeder on their way to their over-wintering area in Mexico and Central America.
See my article: Hummingbird Adaptation and Remarkable Ability to Locate Food

When To Take Down Hummingbird Feeders in Virginia?

The best time to take down hummingbird feeders for the winter in Virginia is mid-November or when no hummingbirds have been seen at the feeders for a couple of weeks.
Many Virginians leave feeders up all winter to feed over-wintering hummingbirds and those too old or injured to migrate.

The dilemma hummingbird enthusiasts struggle with every year is whether to leave the hummingbird feeders up all year or take them down during the winter.

Some Virginia hummingbird admirers leave hummingbird feeders up all winter long to provide life-nourishing nectar to Virginians only likely winter residents, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, as well as some seasonal hummingbirds that choose to stay in Virginia for the winter, namely the Rufous hummingbirds.

Most Ruby-throated and Rufous hummingbirds will not spend the winter in Virginia and will decide to migrate south to Mexico or Central America for the winter.

The selfless act of keeping hummingbird feeders up all winter also provides nectar to other migrating species unable to migrate because of injury or old age.
See my article: 11 DIY Ways to Keep Hummingbird Nectar From Freezing
See my article: Should I Keep My Hummingbird Feeder Out During the Winter?

Hummingbird enthusiasts that leave hummingbird feeders up all winter provide much-welcomed nutrition for year-round, migrating, and hummingbirds too old or injured to migrate.

Hummingbirds are much more tolerant of cold temperatures than most people realize.
According to eBird.org, some banded hummingbirds have been documented in temperatures of -9 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -36 degrees Fahrenheit.
See my article:  3 Reasons Why Hummingbirds Are Banded

Taking hummingbird feeders down mid-winter during episodes of below-freezing temperatures could be fatal to hummingbirds depending on these winter-time feeders.
See my article: 11 DIY Ways to Keep Hummingbird Nectar From Freezing

Where Do Virginia Hummingbirds Go in The Winter?

Virginia migrating hummingbirds travel south to over-winter in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

All hummingbirds have excellent memories and can remember every flower or feeder they visited during spring migration and will return to those locations along their migration pathway year after year.

Some hummingbirds have been documented returning to a feeder for a couple of years after it was removed.
See my article: Hummingbird Adaptation and Remarkable Ability to Locate Food

See my article: Hummingbirds Found in Virginia: (Pictures and Sounds)

Happy Hummingbird Watching!

Adult Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Photo by: Aaroncutler1
Taken: Alexandria, Virginia

Elizabeth Donaldson

Hi Everyone! I have always been fascinated and amazed by the skill, strength, and beauty of hummingbirds. I hope this article answered your questions.

Recent Posts