The thrum of hummingbird wings, and their speedy flight, are a delight in Iowa gardens in summer. But when do hummingbirds arrive in Iowa, and when do they leave?
Ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive in Iowa in mid to late April. They will breed and nest in appropriate habitats in the state in summer, before leaving in August or September to make their way south for the winter.
Understanding when these beautiful birds are present in your area will help you understand their needs and make sure they are happy and healthy while they share your space. Read on to learn more about watching and welcoming hummingbirds in your Iowa garden.
What Hummingbirds are Seen in Iowa?
Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are the most common hummingbird species seen in Iowa. It is the only type of hummingbird that breeds in eastern North America.
These tiny birds have greenish backs, brownish sides and crowns, and grey-white underside coloration. The males have an iridescent red patch on their throats. They are tiny birds, just 3-3.5 inches long, with a wingspan of around 3-4 inches. Each one weighs just 0.1-0.2 oz.
Far more rarely, the Rufous hummingbird, Broad-billed hummingbird, Mexican violetear are seen in certain locations in the state, and the near-threatened Anna’s hummingbird may also occasionally be glimpsed.
Typically, however, Iowa gardeners are only likely to encounter the Ruby-throated hummingbird in their gardens. Birdwatching surveys in Iowa listed this hummingbird in 15.5% of cases, compared to fewer than 0.1% of cases for the other species.
When Do Hummingbirds Arrive in Iowa?
Ruby-throated hummingbirds typically arrive in Iowa in spring, around mid-to-late April. They will spend the entirety of the breeding season in the state before flying south later in the year to overwinter in warmer climes.
Do all the Hummingbirds Arrive at the Same Time?
The male Ruby-throated hummingbirds typically arrive first, around two weeks before the females. The arrivals may be spread out over a week or two, depending on where they have traveled from and the weather conditions locally and on their migration route.
Do Hummingbirds Arrive the Same Time Each Year?
While weather conditions and environmental factors can slightly alter the migration time, hummingbirds will typically arrive in Iowa sometime in most years in the second half of April.
The birds you see may even be the same hummingbirds that arrived the year before. Scientists have shown that hummingbirds return to the same gardens and feeding and nesting sites each year.
How to Prepare for the Arrival of Hummingbirds in Iowa
If your garden is hummingbird ready, you can share your space with them throughout the summer months. But how do you make sure that your garden is hummingbird-ready?
For a hummingbird-friendly garden, you should make sure you have planted plenty of native, pollinator-friendly plants in your garden before early April. You should make sure that you choose appropriate wildlife-friendly plants for your space, suited to your particular area and your particular garden.
The plants you choose should provide nectar and, crucially, attract insects, which are the main staple of the hummingbird diet.
In Iowa, it is a great idea to plant a native tallgrass prairie garden with grasses and forbs, which promote a healthy, biodiverse, and insect-rich environment.
Of course, you should also make sure you always garden organically. Don’t use harmful synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides that may harm the birds and other wildlife that visit your garden.
Ideally, it is best to provide hummingbirds with native plants and a wildlife-friendly garden for food. Hummingbirds will appreciate the insects and will also love native nectary plants. Consider planting, for example, Lobelia, Cardinal flower, Eastern columbine, and bee balm. Brightly-colored tubular flowers are among those that hummingbirds will love.
However, feeders can be beneficial when fewer natural resources are available and can supplement (though not replace) natural feeding during the breeding season and as birds prepare for migration.
When to Put Out Hummingbird Feeders in Iowa
If you have a garden that provides a suitable habitat for hummingbirds and wish to supplement their diet with a hummingbird feeder, then you should make sure that this is in position in early April – ideally, a couple of weeks before you expect your first feathered visitors to arrive, to cater to any individuals ahead of the curve, and for slight variation in the migration time.
Remember, in addition to adding feeders, you might also like to consider adding other garden features – such as a water source for drinking and bathing, for example.
Where Do Hummingbirds Nest in Iowa?
If you want to aid hummingbirds and enjoy them on your Iowa property, you should think about feeding them and providing suitable nesting sites.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds will usually build their nests on downward sloping trees or shrub limbs, between 3 and 12 meters off the ground.
Including plenty of trees (especially native deciduous trees and shrubs such as hazel, hornbeam, oaks, etc.) in your planting schemes will increase the chances of hummingbirds nesting nearby.
Females will lay 1-3 small white eggs in a nest made of bud scales, lichen, plant down or animal hair, and spider silk. They will make the nests and tend the brood until the chicks fledge when they are around 18-22 days old.
When Do Hummingbirds Leave Iowa?
Ruby-throated hummingbirds will typically leave Iowa in August and September.
Males, typically the first to arrive, will usually also be the first to leave. They will often stick around only long enough to mate and may leave the area as soon as early August.
After nesting in the state in summer, the females will usually head south later that month or in September. Though, they may linger a little longer in an Indian Summer.
When to Put Hummingbird Feeders Away
In Iowa, you should keep your feeders in place until you have seen no hummingbirds for a couple of weeks. You should typically feel confident that all individuals have left the area by early October.
Where Do Iowa Hummingbirds Go in Winter?
In September, the hummingbirds will make their way south and begin to congregate on the Gulf Coast of Texas. They will then push on further south and usually overwinter in Central America, Mexico, or Florida.
How Long Does a Hummingbird Live?
If you have welcomed hummingbirds to your Iowa garden, you may well wonder whether the same individuals make their way back each year. You might wonder how long these birds live.
The oldest Ruby-throated hummingbird ever known was nine years and one month old. Almost all birds that live over seven years are female, and males rarely make it beyond five years because of the demands of defending their territory followed by the migration.
However, you may welcome the same individuals over several years. If you provide everything your hummingbirds need – not just feeders – then you are far more likely to enjoy their company year after year.