How Do Hummingbirds Find Feeders?

Updated: Dec. 07, 2022

Readers often report that the same hummingbirds return year after year. Find out what the experts say about how hummingbirds find feeders.

How Do Hummingbirds Find Feeders?

Move over, elephants! Hummingbirds have excellent memories. If you think the same hummingbirds come back to your feeders every year, you might be right! They even remember which flowers they’ve already sipped from. Banding research shows they are likely to return to the area where they hatched. For instance, we know ruby-throated hummingbirds follow the same migration routes every year. They also arrive at and leave from stopover points on almost the same date each year, within a few days. Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman answer the question: How do hummingbirds find feeders?

rufous hummingbirdCourtesy Trish Nevan
Rufous hummingbirds, like this male, have amazing memories. They often seek out and stop at the same feeders and flowers during their annual migration routes.

“We were finally successful in attracting ruby-throated hummingbirds with feeders. Now that we’ve attracted them, will the same group and their offspring return to our backyard next year?” asks Dennis Woods of Greensville, Ontario.

Kenn and Kimberly: Now that you’ve had success in attracting the ruby-throats, there’s a good chance they’ll come back every year. Young hummingbirds usually return to the general area where they were hatched. In addition, hummingbirds have strong spatial memory, and they may return to the same spots where they’ve found food in the past, even after migrating thousands of miles. If you have feeders and flowers ready at the right season, you can expect to have plenty of hummingbirds.”

Red colored flowers and feeders may help catch their attention, but skip adding red dye or food coloring to sugar water as it could be harmful for the birds. (And never add these ingredients to sugar water, either!)

We asked the experts: how long do hummingbirds live?

Hummingbirds Remember Food Sources

Bbjj17 Clatistow RCourtesy Clatis Tow

Readers often write in to Birds & Blooms to report seeing the same hummingbirds at their feeders. “These ruby-throats (above) come back to my front yard every year, and I love to sit and watch them,” says Clatis Tew of Butler, Alabama.

Great memory has also been also observed in other types of hummingbirds, including rufous and Allen’s.

“If an Allen’s hummingbird really likes your yard, it will come back year after year. They are very site-specific,” says Barbara Monahan, whose property in Santa Cruz, California, was a banding site for 3,000 hummingbirds for the nonprofit Hummingbird Monitoring Network.

Next: Did you know hummingbirds can see even MORE colors than humans, according to researchers. Plus, was the Lucifer hummingbird really named after the devil?