Hummingbirds are one of the most beautiful birds you can see at your birdfeeder. Every year when they migrate north, they bring their tropical sensibility with them to our backyards. They liven up the garden with their flight skills and territorial tussles.
Illinois gets to join in on the bird-watching excitement with one native breeding hummingbird species: the Ruby-throated hummingbird. These emerald jewels make their journey all the way from Central America and Mexico each spring. After a journey of thousands of miles, they build a quarter-sized nest for babies the size of a coffee bean!
When will these incredible feats of nature take place? Let’s find out when to welcome the hummingbirds to Illinois!
When Will the Hummingbirds Arrive in Illinois?
The hummingbirds usually arrive in Illinois around the beginning of May. Occasionally a few come in late April. The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird species that breeds in Illinois, and it makes its trip up from Mexico to nest in the spring.
Do the Hummingbirds Arrive in Illinois All at Once or Gradually?
Hummingbirds are solitary. They migrate as individuals rather than in flocks.
When the hummingbird migration begins, the males will set out first. They are seeking out the best sources of food. When they find them, they will stake out a territory and defend it from other males.
Female hummingbirds follow the males about a week later. They will join them in their new territories to mate, build nests, and raise their young.
Do the Hummingbirds Arrive in Different Parts of Illinois at Different Times?
Primarily, Illinois will only see the Ruby-throated hummingbirds arriving in the spring. Thousands of hummingbirds are on their way north and will land in the southern parts of Illinois at the beginning of May and move gradually northward.
But around the Chicago area in the winter, you may occasionally see Rufous Hummingbirds, or even more rarely, other western species like the Broad-billed hummingbird and Anna’s hummingbird.
These western bird species straying far from their typical ranges are thought of as “accidental” sightings, and they’re not hummingbirds you should count on seeing in Illinois. But if you are going to see them, they’ll most likely be around the Chicago area.
When Should I Put Out Hummingbird Feeders in Illinois?
You should put out your hummingbird feeders in Illinois in mid-April, or about two weeks before you expect hummingbirds’ earliest arrival. This will help to ensure that any early birds can find the food they need after their long journey.
Hummingbirds have extraordinary memories. Their brains take up 5% of their bodies: twice the relative volume of a human brain! These brilliant birds remember food sources and return to them year after year.
But because they have to eat so frequently, sometimes as often as every five minutes, they’ll be forced to seek out other food sources if your feeders aren’t out when they arrive. So be sure to have your feeders ready in advance!
When Should I Take Hummingbird Feeders Down in Illinois?
You can take down your hummingbird feeders in Illinois in early October, or about two weeks after you last see a hummingbird use your feeders.
You don’t have to worry that leaving your feeders up will prevent the hummingbirds from migrating. Each hummingbird has its own sense of when to migrate that’s triggered by the changes in the length of the day. They will set off when they’re ready, returning males first, just as they arrived.
When you see stragglers lingering at your feeders, they are fueling up for their long journey south. Female hummingbirds also won’t migrate until they’ve finished rearing their chicks and are getting them ready to relocate.
Where in Illinois Do Hummingbirds Like to Nest?
The only hummingbirds that breed and nest in Illinois are the Ruby-throated hummingbirds. These birds particularly like to nest in the Cook County woodlands.
Their preference is for nesting in trees and shrubs, between 10 and 20 feet off the ground. They like to situate the nest in the forked part of a branch, in an area that has leaf cover at varying heights.
Which Illinois Flowers Attract Hummingbirds?
Everyone who loves hummingbirds knows that hummingbirds love flowers! Their migrations are timed to help them take maximum advantage of the blooming times of all their favorite flowers. You can draw hummingbirds to your backyard by planting some flowers for them.
The best garden choices are Illinois native plants. These will be the easiest to grow, the best for your local ecosystem, and the best for the hummingbirds. Win-win-win!
Here are some Illinois native plants that this beautiful bird loves:
- Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
- Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
- Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
- Anise Hyssop aka Hummingbird Mint (Agastache foeniculum)
- Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
- Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
- Woodland Pinkroot (Spigelia marilandica)
- Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)
- Golden Currant (Ribes aureum)
- Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
- Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Open the Door for Hummingbirds!
Hummingbirds are flying to your backyard in Illinois beginning in May, so get those feeders and cameras ready! They’ll raise their chicks and begin their return trip south by the start of October, when you will bid them farewell until next year.