You’re seeing fewer hummingbirds at your feeder. Should you worry?

July 29, 2011
Anna Anna's Hummingbirds. Photo by Edgar Paul Coral, via Birdshare.

Many bird watchers have a special love for hummingbirds—there’s just so much power and personality packed in that tiny bundle of feathers. Each summer, we get inquiries from people who notice these little dynamos have gone missing from their feeders. But rest assured (barring extreme natural events such as the Arizona fires we wrote about yesterday), hummingbird numbers naturally fluctuate throughout the summer. Here’s a little more information on why (and some tips on best hummingbird feeding practices):

                    State of North America's Birds 2016 report            

As spring arrives, hummingbirds return to North America (in the Southwest or West Coast, species such as Anna’s Hummingbirds occur year-round). You’ll at first notice one, and then several to many hummingbirds suddenly buzzing around your yard.

But adult male hummingbirds are fiercely territorial and may drive all other male hummingbirds away during the spring nesting season. (Where you put your feeders can partially alleviate this—more about that below) By early July or so, after chicks fledge you may see more birds again. These numbers may grow and then decline as migration begins in late summer and early fall.

The first wave to depart is mainly made up of male hummingbirds, followed by the females and young. In addition to the “local” birds, migrants from farther north may stop for a rest and a sugar-water pick-me-up as they are passing through. By the way, keeping your feeders up in the fall will NOT cause hummers to delay migration. Many factors trigger birds to migrate, but the strongest one is day length. As days grow shorter in late summer, hummingbirds get restless and start to head south, regardless of whether there are feeders around. Several hummingbird accounts in Birds of North America Online also note that feeders may help hummingbirds survive in early spring or late fall when flowers are not in bloom.

If you notice fewer hummingbirds over a widespread area for multiple years, that’s possibly more serious. One way to double-check whether others are noticing the same thing is to explore the data at eBird, the online checklist sponsored by the Cornell Lab and Audubon. Check data for your county for the past few years to see if there seems to have been a change in the numbers of hummingbirds reported. Bird clubs and your state’s breeding bird atlas may also have helpful information on population trends.

Still, it’s often normal for hummingbird populations to differ from one year to the next. Perhaps  availability of natural sources of food or nest sites have changed, causing the birds to look elsewhere. Despite their tiny size, hummingbirds can be injured or killed by free-roaming domestic cats. Some studies have also found that a good wildflower crop will reduce the number of hummingbird visits to feeders. (For an example, see this 1991 research paper in the journal Condor.) It is also possible that there’s more for the hummers to choose from if neighbors have put up feeders in their yards too.

So, what you see or don’t see at your own feeders does not necessarily reflect what is happening to a species as a whole—none of the North American species of hummingbirds is in any trouble at the population level right now. Most species are found in the west and extreme southwest of the United States (read our post about shorter-term problems this fall for southern Arizona hummingbirds and what you can do to help).

If you are still worried about a sudden drop in numbers at your hummingbird feeder, it can’t hurt to double-check your feeding routine. We get a lot of questions about feeding hummingbirds, so here are our notes on a few basic dos and don’ts:

  • The ideal sugar-water mixture for hot or dry weather is one-quarter cup of sugar per cup of water.
  • Honey contains different sugars than are found in nectar and spoils faster than sugar water, so don’t use it in hummingbird feeders.
  • Red food coloring is unnecessary and possibly harmful. Real nectar is colorless.
  • Change sugar water every 3–5 days to prevent mold and deadly fermentation, and more frequently when it’s over 90 degrees outside.
  • Clean feeders at least once a week with hot water and a bottle brush. Don’t use soap or a detergent.
  • Because mold readily grows in sugar water and can attach to feeders, make sure to take the feeder apart when cleaning. Use a dishwasher on a hot setting or hand wash either with soap and boiling water or with a dilute bleach solution (rinse thoroughly and allow to dry before refilling).
  • If you have a bee, wasp, or ant problem, try moving the feeder. Don’t put oil or other sticky substances around feeding ports to deter insects; you might contaminate the nectar or soil the birds’ feathers.
  • Several smaller feeders spread around your yard may serve more hummingbirds than one large feeder. Male hummers tend to be aggressive, and one bird may keep others away from a feeder even if there’s plenty to go around.

More about hummingbirds and hummingbird feeders on All About Birds:


  • Bonnita Thompson

    We seem to have a bumper crop this year, Annas, Costas, and Black-chins. I looks like this was a great breeding season as we have lots of juveniles. We are able to feed year round here in the Southwest and always look forward to the migration to see who shows up, on occasion some Rufous and Calliopes. Interesting to note that several times we have had up to six birds sharing our kitchen window feeder all at once, most often when the weather seems to be getting poor.

  • Sheila Floyd

    GREAT ARTICLE!! This answers many hummer questions that I have had this summer! I had all males VERY early spring this year and then a drop and nothing. Now, for about a week, there are many many hummers back at my four feeders. This is one of the best hummer articles I have read! Thanks so much!!!

  • Jacqueline Flourory

    Very interesting article. I’ve wondered if the additional feeders I placed in my yard this year were keeping the hummingbirds away. But now I realize it’s just the more aggressive males. The last couple of weeks I’ve notice more fledglings at all of the feeders. It’s been nice to see the very curious young birds.

  • Randy Bonds

    I loved this article as this has been a huge concern of my wife and mine this year. We moved to the Smoky Mountains a few years ago after purchasing Sunset Farm Cabins and the first season I had to fill our feeders daily. This year I left only a few up as rarely did we see any hummingbirds. This article helps us understand. Thanks.

  • I am curious about the charm of hummingbirds that appeared in my yard concurrent with Tropical Storm Irene. I am in Maryland near the Chesapeake and the approach of the storm seemed to increase the number of hummingbirds. There are astonishing videos on utube, especially: Is there a connection between the birds and the weather?

  • Hugh

    Hi Ellen, thanks for sending us this link. The video is wonderful, with good quality, steady camera, and lots of hummingbirds, so we’ve added the link to our Facebook page so others can see it. There are certainly connections between birds and weather. In this case it’s pretty straightforward: during the actual high winds and heavy rainfall, hummingbirds (and many other birds) are unable to feed. So they have to wait out the storm and live off their fat reserves. Hummingbirds especially have high metabolisms, so when the weather clears they come out in force to fuel up at backyard feeders.

  • Lee Moss

    This spring we had the same amount of mumming birds at there feeding locations. In the past 10 days the only bird seen is one male. Is this normal.

  • Carolyn Mordecai

    I heard on Dr. Eliezer Ben-Joseph’s radio program this morning that HMO crops are destroying the humming bird and small singing bird populations as well. He says a humming bird can be destroyed by one HMO corn kernel (insecticide). I live in Phoenix AZ where I use to see humming birds all the time. No more, so I was wondering why too. Please look on Dr. Ben Joseph’s site and listen to June 14, 2013 radio program, if you desire, for more details.

  • Carolyn Mordecai

    P.S. I hit the wrong key. I meant to say June 15th radio program. Sorry for this mistake.

  • carolyn

    I had my first experience with what I think was a juvenile male Rufous that stayed throughout the winter at my feeders. I live in southern Louisiana, and he appeared in late summer with 1-2 red orange throat feathers.He stayed through the winter in a growth of bamboo in my neighbor’s yard.As time passed, I could see the throat feathers coming in more,and when I saw him for the last time in April, they were almost complete.From now on,I will leave my feeders out all winter.It was a wondrous experience!


    I have had alot of Hummers in my yard for the past few weeks I have never seen so many I live in West Virginia is this normal? They come to my window but there is no feeder and I am not a flower person.

  • Kay

    We have had lots of hammers this year. Lately they have been very aggressive. Today we have ha none, What’s going on?,

  • Wayne Bazemore

    I had around 25 hummers last year and was looking forward to seeing even more this year. However, I only have a couple. What could be the problem. I keep my feeders fresh. I have a few crows and a couple of hawks that hang around regularly. Since both these birds feed on hummers, could this be the problem?

  • jean gant

    I had hummers earlier in the spring and now none. I do not know what happened? I have cleaned and refilled my feeders, any suggestions? I enjoy watching them, they keep me company. Help, please

  • Kaci Hayes

    I had lots of hummers. Now suddenly they are gone. I have had my feeders out for years and this is the first time I have had this problem. Very sad.

  • Jenny H

    I was glad to read the comment thread on this issue. I too had hummers at my feeder early this spring and now nothing. It makes me feel a little better knowing it is a common problem.

  • Patti

    I am in Austin, Texas and I have regular birds, not humming birds coming to my feeder. I’ve had plenty of hummingbirds in the past but recently onlly other birds are coming to the feeder. I change it every 5 days and wash it really well. I use the 1/4 c. sugar to 1c. water. What am I doing wrong?

  • Patricia Kane

    My feeder is usually emptied out in 2 or 3 days but this past week they’ve left it alone I even tried replacing a full one but no activity except one little hummer (female I think) just sits close by and stares at it. What shall I do?

  • Patricia Kane

    Hummers have just stopped feeding where they once(up until two weeks ago)emptied the feeder every couple of days. It’s the same measurements, cleaned frequently, etc. I hear them out there but no feeding.

  • In 2011 my wife and I put out 2 feeders. Good grief you couldn’t stir with a stick there were so many. In 2012 there weren’t as many as well as 2013. So far we’ve only seen at the most 4 at one time. Where have they gone? We’ve always enjoyed watching these little wonders and their antics. Very puzzling? We live in northport al.

  • rob

    I don’t know, we live in north Florida. We started feeding humming birds mid July, had a bunch males and females. By end of July don’t see any. Migration seems too me a bit early but I don’t know? Anyone know?

  • Doreen

    My friend Janet got me started with the window version of a hummer..Have thoroughly enjoyed watching their antics last year and this.. Not seen any for over 3 days now to speak of.. just the odd female and maybe babies? they sure left early to go back to their Mexico home.. I miss them already.. checked the feeder and it’s not it so they have left for home.. no doubt.. what a fantastic hobby watching their antics.. quite the little characters. that’s for sure..

  • Frank

    My New Jersey feeders were humming all Summer, but the residents seem to be gone now. Hummingbirds passing through on migration don’t seem to know how to use the feeders?? They fly around them and seem puzzled, and finally go to the Cannas or Lantanas. Is it possible that these hummers have never seen a feeder?

  • Sheryl

    We moved our feeders away from the larger bird feeders and closer to the house and the hummers have been constant. I make my nectar and they love it!

  • Patti

    I have one hummer who appears every time I go out into the yard where the feeder is. We actually have a conversation I talk to him, say “HI” in a high squeeky voice and make chirping noises. When I stop, he proceeds to go into quite a lengthy speech of his own, then stops and waits for a reply. I accommodate him and I believe he would stay and do that for an hour or more if I were to keep it going. I usually hold out for half that time and we carry on our birdie talk much to the amusement of my neighbors who probably think I’m nuts – and I am, about that bird!

  • Kirk Stanford

    We live in Savannah GA and put feeders out this year. We immediately attracted about 4 hummingbirds that fed all summer. They’re gone now. I hope it’s coincidence and they have headed south due to the shorter days and not because of the county helicopter spraying for mosquitoes around the time they went missing.

  • Patricia

    1st of March and I have not seen a hummingbird in 3 weeks. I’ve cleaned the feeder, fresh nectar often. Any suggestions?


  • Kerri

    I LOVE hummers and have done everything in my power to attract them. I have a nice sized porch with trees outside of it for nesting. I have hung 4 feeders, along with lots of other red attractions (flowers, wind chimes, etc.) I even moved my bird feeds from porch to trees, farther away from my feeders. WHERE ARE THEY?????? (It’s May 5th in north central Texas). Help!

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  • Kerri

    I meant I move seed feeders to trees for other birds -!kept hummingbird feeders around porch area.

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  • Kerri

    How come no one responded to me?

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  • Suzan Blum

    In mid April I had a male ruby throated hummingbird at my feeder followed within a few days by a female. Typically I have close to 30 by this time of year and I’ve none now… the two that showed up at the feeder in April are gone. I’m really concerned about why this has happened. I’ve got 6 feeders and make the food myself.. I keep a variety of flowers that hummingbirds are attracted to every year. This is really unusual that my hummingbirds have disappeared completely

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  • Mike

    No hummingbirds here in Virginia! I’ve only seen two passing through all year. In 2013 we had lots all day, every day of the summer. During 2014 and now 2015 we haven’t any local nesting hummers at all. Starting to worry…

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  • Margaret Maese

    I was very happy to see so many hummingbirds at my feeders. After a couple of thunder storms they seem to have left or just stopped eating. Does any one have and idea as to why this happened? I am so sad to see they have left. May19,2015 Central, New Mexico.

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  • Milton

    I live in Northern VA and I haven’t seen a single hummer yet.

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  • Bonnie

    Me too! As soon as I refilled the feeders, they’re gone! Did it the same way as before. Refilled them again in case I messed something up! Miss those little guys!

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  • Andrew

    Our feeder was starting to get a nice collection of hummingbirds until it fell of the hook that was holding it. Now, there’s none. Did they get scared away? Will they come back? Should we move it and can we place it with the rest of the (seed) feeders?

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  • Marsha Miller

    I’m near Rocky Mount, NC & saw one hummer in April & haven’t seen any since! I’ve cleaned & recleaned both my feeders. What’s going on?

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  • Norma

    I too had hummers the end of April and after two weeks they disappeared and have not reappeared. Does anyone have an explanation?

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  • Kathy Kagan

    I, too, am missing my entertaining little visitors. I am concerned because it is June already and I have not seen a single bird at the feeder. I did get it outside a little late this year, not until the beginning to middle of May. I ran the glass globe feeder through the dishwasher. Was this a mistake? I did rinse again with hot tap water. If so, would boiling rectify it? I do have some bees at it occasionally, but it has not deterred the hummingbirds in past years. I think I had a hummingbird nest last summer, but I found a single tiny broken egg inside. If hummingbirds experience this loss, would they leave and not return?

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  • Chrysti

    I live in Northcentral Arkansas. I had a large amount of hummingbirds all last week, but this week I haven’t seen one. What could possibly be the problem?

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  • Lori

    Will hummingbirds return if you are gone and they leave because they are not feed for a few day

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  • Alison

    I get hummers at the beginning of June and then don’t see them for several weeks. am I doing something wrong or are they nesting during that period?

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  • Renee Potter

    I have had Hummingbirds for the last 3 years, however, this year I have had none, nor a glimpse of one. I have also noticed that other feeders in the neighborhood look abandoned also. I am in Arlington, VA.

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  • Donna


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  • Charlotte Frankel

    I have 2 feeders in my yard and every year I have about 2 dozen and sometimes more they are large 32 oz feeders with 8 ports and the hammers are all on feeders together and while others are trying to get on too. This year I am so disappointed because only a few of my hummingbirds are back. My yard was always filled with them except this year. I wonder did something happen this year with their migration. I live in Brandywine Md 20613. Has anybody else noticed a decrease in their presence?

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  • Sharon

    I live in Upstate NY. We have lived here for 25 years and have always had an abundance of hummingbirds at the feeders especially in July! This year I am lucky if I see one or two feeding occasionally. :( we have had very wet weather conditions and I am wondering if they have gone elsewhere. I am very sad about this. Look forward to them coming each year. :(

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  • Roseanne

    Last year we looked forward to sitting on our deck in the evening & watch the hummies fight & dive at the feeders. This year I have only seen an intermittent visit in the morning & no visits in the evening. We are in a suburb of Minneapolis & concerned about the very few sightings. What is happening? A few days ago it was very smokey here from the wildfires in Canada. Could this be the problem?

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  • laura

    Our numbers of Ruby-throated hummingbirds change from year to year. I started paying attention to the seasons and related it to weather, plant growth and when bugs start populating. This year started out normally as in past years. The males arrive in the 1-2nd week in May, then , as the natural plants, etc start, the hummingbirds visit a little less, then the closer to migration, they start visiting more often. However, this year, as of the last couple of weeks, they hover over the feeder, but don’t feed. Nothing has changed with the feeder, location, or the way the feeder is cleaned. There were a few fierce battles between a bee and a male RT,but that only occurred for a couple days, and the male did return after that. So, I’m really curious about what would cause this behavior. ~~Laura Minnesota.

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  • Olivia

    i have seen hammers at my feeder, but don’t stay long, as if they can’t get the nectar. They flap around to all the openings. they just flap around for a second or two and leave. I guess I’m used to watching birds stay at the feeder for minutes at a time. Is this normal? I do change out the nectar every 3-4 days

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  • Dianna Scott

    We live in Oregon and have enjoyed more than normal hummmers this year. Then 2 days ago they disappeared! We even changed the water in case the mix was wrong, and nothing. After reading these posts I am really concerned. And sad….

  • Dianna Scott

    We have had plenty here in Oregon until 2 days ago. Now none! After reading all these posts I am sad and concerned. Any change there?

  • Vicki Penn

    We only use pure cane sugar to feed our hummingbirds. Beet sugar can be derived from genetically modified plants. Pure cane sugar is non-GMO.

  • shin

    I hung feeder above the flowers. I changed the nectar everyday. In hot weather I changed it at least twice a day. I just wanted to feed hummers fresh nectar. They were so happy. My neighbor saw it and hung feeder,too. But she waited until the nectar in the feeder all used up even in very hot weather. I told her nectar has to be changed regularly but she didn’t listen to me. Hummers were fighting over my feeder and some flew over her feeder and drank it ( Very Cloudy Color – which means started fermenting, could kill the bird slowly but painfully ). I was very angry so I stopped feeding hummers. Now I see only one or two hummers are around her feeder. I am so sad for them feeding nectar over 3 weeks ( now very hot, 80-90F). Please rinse feeder and feed the hummers fresh nectar!!! They trust you! If you can’t, you’d better feed hummers the natural nectar in flowers!!!

  • jack

    I live in Portland, Oregon on the south waterfront, 9 stories up, facing the river. Nearly the entire year of my time in this high-rise apartment building I saw hummers flitting about my balcony, early morning and at dusk. I wondered – previous tenant and a feeder? Since it was getting colder and colder and they were still hunting for a place to feed, this high up (!) I went to Backyard Bird Store and acquired a multi-port hanging feeder. I mixed the special solution and waited. It didn’t take long before what appeared to be nearly a dozen different sized and colored hummers starting feeding. This continued for 3 weeks. At one point, early on, I made the mistake of letting the water get stale and quickly saw the birds disappear. I corrected this and they came back immediately. After several weeks, all at once, they’re now gone! Nary a sign of them morning or night. They even fed in a rare heavy snowfall recently. If anything, the weather is now slightly warmer, even sunny (today) still no birds. I hope I didn’t do something wrong. Miss the little daily acrobatics and stunning display of color. Suggestions welcome. Thanks.

  • Cathy Manweiler

    Please continue feeding the hummers. They will continue to feed at yours over your neighbor. Maybe you can ask if you could change hers too. I don’t think it is necessary to change it 2x a day. I have read they can be changed every 3 days or so.

  • Cathy Manweiler

    They probably migrated to a warmer area. Just keep the feeder out anyway, but not so much sugar water until you see them come regularly. You could tie red ribbons, towels onto the balcony rails or put a flag out. They can spy the red from quite a distance when migrating and will snoop it out. I use 1/3 c. sugar-1 c. of water during cold weather so they don’t have to keep coming back as often, then go back to 1/4 c of sugar when it’s consistently warm.

  • Cathy Manweiler

    Yes, that could be the problem. It’s a normal behavior for all birds and animals to leave for safer sanctuary.

  • jack

    Thank you so much, Cathy! Will do!

  • Cathy Manweiler

    My pleasure! :)

  • Mara Jade

    I see your post was a year ago, but wanted to say I had a hummingbird visitor that would fly in front of our sliding glass door screen and ‘talk’ to my cats and I. Sometimes he would hover so low to the ground, almost like he was taunting my cats. The cats didn’t know what to make of it. My one cat used to make noises back at the bird. I named him Jetson because he sounded like the flying cars in ‘The Jetsons’. :) I say hello to the hummers too when I’m outside, so my neighbors probably think I’m a bit crazy also. Haha. I really enjoy the hummer visits too and am hoping Jetson comes back this year. I really enjoyed your post, thanks for giving me a laugh!

  • Mara Jade

    I have read conflicting information on how often to change nectar & nectar going bad. One website says that the hummers will not touch bad nectar. It said they would rather starve than drink it. Another website says that if hummers drink bad nectar, they will get sick or die. It says that during the hot summer months to change nectar every 3-4 days or if you start to see black spots. In colder weather it should be changed every 5-6 days. I have never changed my nectar daily though. I would like to know the safest way to feed the hummers. After I read the second site, I’m terrified of mold growing in the feeder. I will probably just buy another feeder or two so I can rotate them out every few days so there is no lapse in feeding. I am wondering where my hummingbird friends have gone, the feeder was not out for about a day and a half (we have had really bad storms with strong winds and heavy rains). I put the feeder back out with fresh nectar, but haven’t seen one hummer yet. I am hoping they will come back soon. Thanks in advance for any help.

  • Mara Jade

    Hello, I saw your comment and even though it was six months ago, I’m hoping you will see this. It is nice that you take the time to give your birds fresh nectar every day. I understand your concerns about your neighbors not taking the time to change nectar and keep the feeder clean. I worry about that myself in my neighborhood. Sometimes people want to do what the neighbors are doing, but they don’t take the time to research it. One of my neighbors hung a feeder, but she uses pesticides on all her flowers on the balcony. I am concerned about birds being harmed by pesticides, but I don’t want my neighbor to think I’m being rude. I have been thinking of making her a homemade gift – a little booklet of pages I have printed about hummingbird care and care for different flowers. She asks me gardening questions frequently, so I thought I could include some pages about the gardening, and a few pages showing the dangers of pesticide use/not cleaning hummer feeders. Maybe could try something like this with your neighbor. One last thing, I hope you put your feeders back up. If you can, maybe hang a few more feeders and then they will all come to you. I have fuchsia’s hanging by my feeder and the birds feed off of them also. I highly recommend them. Good luck to you! :)