Hummingbird Migration and setting out feeders

How to track the hummingbird migration and a few things to remember when setting out your feeders
Augusta County, Virginia
Augusta County, Virginia(Warren Faught)
Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 10:56 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 15, 2023 at 6:07 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Spring is here and that means many bird species will be returning to the area. A few have been spotted in our area, the hummingbird migration map link is at the bottom of this story.

As you get those hummingbird feeders ready, here are a few things to keep in mind for the warmer months.

The hummingbirds of the east coast are the ruby throat hummingbirds and they migrate south during the winter, just like most of our bird species. We’re not talking just to Florida; these hummingbirds travel as far as Central and South America, back to the tropical zones in which they are native.

In the spring, as the birds return north, the bird and hummingbird feeders you put out become an important source of food and rest for them.

Haley Olsen-Hodges is the Staff Naturalist with the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center.

Olsen-Hodges says that, “We know that the feeders are working because the hummingbird population has not declined.”

Weather also plays a role in migration, but also can come into play when non-native birds end up in an area they aren’t typically seen. It’s a long journey from Central and South America. If there are storms in the Gulf of Mexico, that can slow down the migration and tire out the little birds more.

Olsen-Hodges says recently, a rufous hummingbird ended up in Blacksburg. This type of hummingbird is only found out west and it was likely a storm that re-directed this bird much more east.

There’s a website called Birdcast that uses meteorology to forecast migration. You can also follow the migration forecast and help the birds as they migrate by turning your lights off at night. Click the link below:

Or for the direct link on the current migration map, you can click this link. When the colors across your area reach the medium to high threshold, then you can help by turning off your lights at night.

Bird Migration Forecast

Forecast map of bird migration

Augusta County, Virginia

Radar is one of the weather tools that is used. Yes: the same radar that we use to see rain, snow, and storms. We can also see large clusters of birds or insects. We can’t tell what birds are flying with radar, but we can see where they are taking off from.

With the recent cold spells and even snow sometimes in late March or April, that poses a threat to migrating birds by limiting their food source of insects and bugs.

So how can you help?

Olsen-Hodges says, basically, it comes down to putting out bird feeders, but also most important: keeping the feeders clean.

If a bird infected with a disease comes to eat at your bird feeder, it can spread that to other birds who eat from the same feeder. The risk is greater when the bird feeder isn’t cleaned often or properly.


It’s recommended you clean these about once a week or every other week in colder weather.

How to clean: Use 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Wash thoroughly, let the mixture sit for a little bit and then rinse thoroughly. Let the feeder fully dry before adding seed.


Olsen-Hodges says first, there is no need to add red dye. The dye can end up harming the bird, and the red on the feeder is enough for them to see it.

She also says to “use regular white sugar, do not use organic. They can contain other minerals that might be good for us, but can be harmful to the birds.”

Use the recipe of 1/4 c. white sugar to 1 cup water (or four parts water to one part sugar). Many experts say not to boil the water but using warm water will help dissolve the sugar. Measure out the water and then add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Let the mixture cool fully.

You should be cleaning these feeders every 3-5 days. The more often you clean, the better especially as the temperatures warm up. Because sugar is used, bacteria can grow easily.

The recommendation is to clean with a vinegar solution, let it sit and then rinse thoroughly. The more often you clean, the easier it will be.

If you want to check out the hummingbird migration map, you can view that here: We always have these migration maps on our website, under the weather section. It’s under weather info and resources- then click on spring.

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