Hummingbirds are warmth-loving species which spend winter in warm climates, often in Central and South America, and migrate long distances in the spring to breed in the northern United States and Canada before returning to their winter homes when the weather starts to get cold.
Because of this migratory pattern, gardeners in much of the United States put out their hummingbird feeders to greet arriving birds in the spring and take down the feeders after the birds have left in the late summer. In Georgia, however, some hummingbirds may pass through the state even in the fall and winter, and feeders can be left out year-round for use by these cool-season migrants.
The only species of hummingbird that nests and breeds in Georgia is the ruby-throated hummingbird; this species is, in fact, the only hummingbird that breeds anywhere in the eastern United States. Ruby-throated hummingbirds typically begin arriving in southern Georgia in early March, and they usually have reached the northern half of the state by the third or fourth week of March. Therefore, gardeners who wish to put out feeders in time for the birds' arrival should have them out very early in March.
Hummingbirds begin their southward migration in the summer after breeding is finished, with adult males leaving first and females and juveniles moving south when the young birds are old enough to travel. Most ruby-throated hummingbirds have left Georgia for their winter homes by the end of October.
Some gardeners take down their feeders in the fall for fear that the presence of a food source will encourage the birds to stay too late in the season to survive. However, the birds' trigger for migration is the length of daylight hours, and the availability of feeders won't make them stay. Feeders left out late in the season may, in fact, help late-migrating birds survive the trip to their winter range.
Although some ruby-throated hummingbirds may spend the winter in coastal Georgia, most of them leave the state by late fall. After the ruby-throats have left, other hummingbird species may appear in the state well into the winter. These winter arrivals are western species that have strayed eastward during their fall migration and typically begin to appear in the state in August. The most common winter-time visitor to Georgia is the rufous hummingbird, some of whom winter in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Less common visitors include the calliope hummingbird and the black-chinned hummingbird.