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Why Did My Hummingbirds Disappear? (5 Reasons)

If you are reading this article there is a good chance this may have happened to you. You put out your hummingbird feeder in the spring and are excited when they arrive. They spend the early weeks of the spring zipping all over the yard, chattering away, sometimes fighting each other for dominance of the feeder or performing courtship flight displays. Just when you were getting used to all the activity, they disappear. The hummingbird withdrawal sets in and you are confused. Where did my hummingbirds go? Why did my hummingbirds disappear? Did I do something wrong? Did something bad happen to them?

Not to worry, this is fairly common and something most hummingbird watchers will encounter.

The top 5 reasons hummingbirds disappear from your yard are:

  1. Males are territorial and chase each other away
  2. Females visit feeders less while nesting
  3. They may be eating more from local flowers
  4. They may be focusing more on protein in their diet
  5. Your feeder may not be clean

Let’s dig into each of these five reasons to get a better understanding of why hummingbirds seem to suddenly vanish and what we can do, if anything, to prevent it.

1. Territory Wars

Hummingbirds are very territorial and will end up staking a claim to an area about the size of a quarter acre. They choose their territories based on availability of food and water. The first hummingbirds to return from migration get first pick of the best spots, and as more and more hummingbirds arrive back from their wintering grounds, the competition gets fierce.

You may notice several male hummingbirds visiting your yard in early spring. If they decide your yard is the territory they want to claim, they will begin trying to chase each other away. Soon one male will dominate, chasing away all other males that enter the area. This is one reason why you might see hummingbird numbers start to decline.

I took the video below in early spring one year, these two males went at it all day. Not too long after I only saw one male coming around.

This territory becomes his mating ground, and he will attempt to mate with any females that come into this area. The males are very aggressive during this time in putting on displays to try and attract females while keeping other males away. Once the female chooses him, they will mate and that is the end of his responsibilities to her. He doesn’t help with the nest, or caring for the young. Often, he will go on to mate with one or more other females. So he will keep defending his territory from other males through the mating season.

What can you do? Try setting up multiple feeders. If you can get two feeders on opposite sides of your yard, especially if they aren’t within site of each other, you may be able to get more than one male in the yard. Later on in the summer, you can try grouping more feeders together in the SAME place. In the summer the females and juveniles will come back to the feeder and if a male is still being a “bully”, he may get too tired trying to defend multiple feeders and give up the fight.

2. Nesting

Female hummingbirds are the ones that build the nests. After they have chosen a male to mate with, you may see them visiting your feeders far less often. The female hummingbirds are solely responsible for incubating the eggs, and protecting and feeding the hatchlings. Because they cannot trade off these responsibilities with the male, they have to stick very close to their nests.

If their nest happens to be in your yard, then you will have more likelihood of seeing them zip to your feeder for a quick meal. But if the nest is far enough away from your feeder, they may not visit at all, choosing to keep their foraging activities within a small radius of the nest.

Female Calliope hummingbird with two nestlings (Image: Wolfgang Wanderer | CC BY-SA 3.0 | Wikicommons)

In general, most female hummingbirds will sit on their eggs for 15-18 days before they hatch. Then after hatching, it will take another 15-28 days before the young are old enough to leave the nest. So that’s a whole 4-6 week time period where you may not be seeing female hummingbirds visit your feeders, or only coming very infrequently.

How long is hummingbird nesting season?

This depends on your location. In the northern latitudes the main hummingbirds are the ruby-throated hummingbird and rufous hummingbird.  These hummingbirds migrate a long way, and most only have time to raise one brood a year. The females will be busy with nesting in late spring into early – mid summer.

So in Canada and the northern half of the United States, you will often see hummingbird numbers increase at your feeders again in mid summer. Not only will the females be free to roam around again, but the juveniles will be flying on their own and seeking out food. You will likely get several family members coming back to your feeder.

In the southern states and Mexico where hummingbirds are found year round, hummingbirds may have between 1 and 3 broods so the frequency of feeder visits may cycle up and down.

3. Changes in Diet

Did you know that hummingbirds eat bugs? It’s talked about so infrequently that many people believe hummingbirds live on nectar alone. We also rarely see it happen. Think about when you are able to observe hummingbirds. It’s usually while they are at your feeder or are visible slowly moving from flower to flower in your garden. They are so small and fast that as soon as they are a few feet away from us they are hard to see, forget trying to find them zipping among tree tops or out in the woods.

It’s important for hummingbirds to have a diet that consists of both carbohydrates (sugar from flower nectar, tree sap, and feeders) as well as protein from insects. Hummingbirds focus mainly on small, soft bodied insects such as gnats, spiders, fruit flies, mosquitoes and aphids.

German ornithologist Helmuth Wagner studied Mexican hummingbirds and found that:

“The food of hummingbirds is determined primarily by habitat and season. A given species may feed mainly on nectar or mainly on insects, depending on the time of year.”

After the nestlings hatch, mother hummingbird is kept very busy gathering food, and a lot of that food is insects. The babies need protein to help them grow quickly to the stage where they can leave the nest. So the female hummingbirds could be spending much more time searching out insects than stopping by your feeder to grab nectar.

What can you do? Keep your yard insect friendly and try a fruit fly feeder. Check out our article on feeding insects to hummingbirds. 

4. Giving preference to local blooms

When hummingbirds first arrive in early spring, there may not be many flowers that are blooming yet where you live. This can increase the frequency that hummingbirds visit your feeder, since there are fewer natural flowers available. But towards the end of spring, many local plants are in full bloom and hummingbirds may start to visit their favorite native plants more often than your feeder.

Image: birdfeederhub

A study was performed where researchers counted how often hummingbirds visited a feeder versus visited flowers, when both were equally available. It found that hummingbirds visited the flowers more frequently.

What can you do?  One way to keep the hummingbirds interested in your yard on a more consistent basis is to plant native flowers that hummingbirds love. Choose varieties that bloom in different months to keep hummingbirds coming back all spring and summer. For more information visit our article 20 plants and flowers that attract hummingbirds.

5. Your feeder is too dirty

Chances are if you are reading this, you know how often you need to clean your feeder and have already been careful about this. But if you are new to hummingbird feeding or just haven’t heard, keeping feeders clean and making sure the nectar is fresh is so important!

Because of the high sugar content of nectar, it spoils rather quickly. It can easily grow mold, fungus and bacteria, all of which are harmful to the hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are pretty savvy about this, and if they sense your nectar has gone bad, they will likely stay away.

Nectar should be changed every 1-6 days, depending on the average outdoor daily temperature. The hotter it is outside, the more often you need to clean your feeder and replace with fresh nectar. See our chart below;

chart showing number of days to leave out nectar versus temperature in degrees F

Don’t just top off what is already out there! You need to dump the old nectar, clean the feeder, and refill with fresh nectar. Check out our article “how often should I clean my hummingbird feeder” for more information about cleaning and refilling nectar feeders. Make sure to keep things fresh and healthy to ensure hummingbirds aren’t avoiding your feeder because they don’t like your nectar.

In short, when hummingbirds go missing from the feeder it is most often just part of the natural seasonal cycle. The best thing you can do is keep your feeders out and keep the nectar fresh and ready, because in almost all cases they WILL return.

16 thoughts on “Why Did My Hummingbirds Disappear? (5 Reasons)”

  1. This was helpful, thank you! I have some hummingbirds this year, but not nearly the numbers I usually have. I have multiple feeders and a lot of flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds, I’m just not seeing that many. Maybe they’re going for more protein this year or the moms are staying closer to their nests.

    Also, any tips on ants in your feeder? My feeders are fine, but my mom’s feeders keep getting tons of ants in them.

    • Yeah the population in your area might just be a little less this year, I’ve read some fluctuations are common and shouldn’t indicate an issue unless you go several years in a row with numbers being drastically different.

      We did write something about ants! They can be tricky but hopefully something here can help: How to Keep Ants Away from Hummingbird Feeders

    • Dear Melanie,

      I live in Las Vegas, where the temperature can be 106-108 degrees F in summer! When I first put out the hummingbird feeder with store bought nectar, the hummingbirds came round right a way. When I made the nectar myself with white sugar and water (4 parts sugar to 2 parts water boiled and cooled) I didn’t have any takers. I’m on the second floor balcony and its July and very hot. Should I be cleaning the feeder everyday? There’s a huge pine tree infront of the balcony and the feeder! Doe that have anything to do iwith why they aren’t returning?

      • You should definitely change the nectar each day. In that heat it would probably be a good idea to clean once a week, but if you can do a daily rinse with just water in the sink that would help a lot. The pine tree shouldn’t be an issue. It’s hard to say why they are scare right now, could be the time of year as we talked about in the article or maybe another food source showed up nearby. Sometimes it seems like just when you get used to “your” hummingbirds schedule, they change. Most experts I have seen recommend 4 parts water to 1 part sugar, so maybe adjust your recipe a bit so it’s not overly sugar loaded. Good luck and keep doing what you’re doing, I’m sure they will return. Sometimes they are hard to predict in the middle of the summer.

      • The water to sugar ratio should definitely be 4 to 1. Especially in hot temperatures the hummingbirds can get dehydrated. Some people recommend in very hot weather to dilute the sugar even more, but since I don’t live in an area where it gets above 90F I have never done it. I also agree that daily change of nectar and cleaning of the feeder are a must in the heat you have. I understand that it probably feels like a waste to throw the nectar each day, especially if no hummingbirds come to the feeder, but you want the food to be fresh and healthy when they come, so they stay. You can buy a smaller feeder or only fill 1/3 – 1/4 of your larger one.

  2. I am a part of a Nextdoor group in Hendersonville NC–western NC mountains. Many of us are posting about the lack of hummers here this spring and so far, this summer. We had a cold snap in May. It got down to 35 degrees. Could that have caused less hummers to migrate here? Thanks! I love your website!

    • That’s hard to say. It’s possible, but hummingbirds can survive in cold snaps and some even stick around into the winter. The Cornell Lab says that it’s normal for their populations to differ from one year to the next in a given location. Availability of food or nesting sites may have been more abundant or desirable in a nearby area. You guys are probably experiencing just a normal population fluctuation.


  4. i has so many bees by the feeder i never had this before and the hummingbird comes and flies away .aren’t bees danger to them??how to stop the bees from coming to the feeder.?i only seen 2 hummingbirds no more.sad i always have more those darn bees. thank you

  5. I had a male guarding my feeder that I named Buzz. I’d see him doing his little dance everyday for the females. He was fiercely aggressive to the males and one day he was letting other hummers go to the feeder, I could still hear him
    though (he sounded like he had a little motor, hence the name Buzz) then one day disappeared. Why would this happen?

    • It often depends on the time of year and where they are in the breeding season. When they are actively looking for females to mate with they are much more defensive. Later in the season they don’t often care about territory as much and will share the feeder more readily. As for why he disappeared it could be he was finding more food / different food and territory somewhere else.

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