Do hummingbirds go back to the same nest every year?

Hummingbirds are amazing little creatures that captivate us with their beauty, speed, and athleticism. Watching them buzz around flowers and feeders in our yards is a delightful part of summer. But have you ever wondered if that hummingbird visiting your feeder is the same one from last year? Do hummingbirds return to the same locations and nests every year or do they move around?

Quick Answers

The short answer is that some hummingbird species exhibit nest site fidelity, meaning they do tend to return to and reuse the same nesting sites year after year. However, other hummingbird species are less particular about nest site selection and will nest in different areas from one year to the next.

Here are some quick facts on hummingbird nest site fidelity:

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds often return to prior nesting locations in subsequent years.
  • Black-chinned hummingbirds also demonstrate nest site fidelity and will reuse former nest sites.
  • Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds may or may not reuse old nesting spots from previous years.
  • Rufous hummingbirds do not exhibit strong nest site fidelity and nest in different areas each year.
  • Habitat quality and availability, mortality, and competition may lead hummingbirds to nest in new areas.
  • Females do most of the work in nest site selection and building.
  • Males will return to previously used nest sites to mate with females.
  • Young hummingbirds hatched in an area may remember nest locations and return in later years.

Nesting Behavior of Different Hummingbird Species

To better understand hummingbird nesting habits, let’s take a closer look at the behaviors of some common hummingbird species.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the most widespread and commonly observed hummingbird in eastern North America. Research shows that ruby-throats do exhibit nest site fidelity. Once they select a favorable nesting spot, females will often rebuild their nest in the same tree or shrub year after year. Males will return to previous mating territories.

One study tracked ruby-throated hummingbird nests and found that females returned to the same nest site in subsequent years at high rates, between 33% to 83%, depending on the specific territory. The data demonstrated strong nest site fidelity over time for this species.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

In western North America, the black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) is a common summer resident. These hummingbirds also demonstrate fidelity to previous nest locations. A study in New Mexico found that female black-chinned hummingbirds reused nest sites from prior years at very high rates of 93-100%.

Interestingly, they also found that nest height and orientation remained consistent when black-chinned hummingbirds rebuilt nests in the same trees and branches. This shows how precisely they reuse nesting spots.

Anna’s Hummingbird

The Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna) is a common resident of the Pacific Coast. The nesting habits of Anna’s hummingbirds appear to be less consistent than ruby-throats or black-chins. Some research indicates moderate nest site fidelity, with females using the same nest sites about 45-60% of the time.

However, other observations show Anna’s hummingbirds freely nesting in new locations, suggesting they are not strongly tied to previous nesting spots. More research is needed to determine the degree of nest site fidelity in this species.

Costa’s Hummingbird

Costa’s hummingbird (Calypte costae) occurs in southwestern desert regions. Their nesting habits are not as well studied as other species. Available research on Costa’s hummingbirds in Arizona showed that some females returned to prior nest locations at rates around 63%.

This suggests a moderate level of site fidelity. However, up to a third of females did nest in new areas. Males showed lower site fidelity, returning to former mating sites at rates of just 21%. Costa’s hummingbirds may preferentially use prior nest sites when available but also readily establish new nests.

Rufous Hummingbird

The rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) migrates long distances between its breeding range in the Pacific Northwest and wintering grounds in Mexico and the Gulf Coast. Due to their migration habits, rufous hummingbirds commonly nest in different areas from one year to the next.

Banding studies show little evidence that rufous hummingbirds reuse the same breeding territories or nest sites between years. The high energy demands of migration mean rufous hummingbirds likely select the most favorable nesting areas each year rather than returning to a previous location.

Do Male or Female Hummingbirds Exhibit Greater Nest Site Fidelity?

Female hummingbirds play the biggest role in selecting nest sites, building the nest, and caring for the young. Thus, females are usually the drivers of nest site fidelity.

In species that do reuse former nest locations, it is typically the female that returns and rebuilds the nest in subsequent years. The male, in many cases, will also return to previously used breeding territories where he previously found a suitable female.

Several factors may influence the female’s nest site selection each year:

  • Quality and availability of food – abundant nectar flowers, insects, etc.
  • Suitable nesting materials and anchoring sites
  • Safe from predators and sheltered from weather
  • Familiar territory if she nested there previously

If the habitat remains suitable, females often prefer to reuse a prior nest site that led to previous successful broods. However, declining habitat or competition with other hummingbirds may force females to nest elsewhere.

How Do Young Hummingbirds Know Where to Nest?

When hummingbirds first hatch and fledge from their nest, how do they know where to return to nest and breed as adults? Here are some possibilities:

  • Genetic imprinting – some scientists propose an evolutionary imprinting process may guide hummingbirds back to ancestral breeding areas, particularly in migration.
  • Learning migratory routes – young hummingbirds may learn migration routes and endpoints from their mothers or other adults.
  • Recognizing landmarks – familiar sights, smells, and geographic features may help young hummingbirds pinpoint former nesting grounds.
  • Remembering prior locations – young hummingbirds have specialized spatial memories and may remember the locations of where they hatched.

In species like ruby-throats with high nest fidelity, the early familiarity of a successful nest site seems to be imprinted. Young hummingbirds hatched in an area may preferentially return there to nest in subsequent years, completing the cycle.

Why Do Some Hummingbirds Reuse Nest Sites While Others Don’t?

Research shows that certain hummingbird species regularly return to previous nesting spots at high rates, while other species appear to nest in new areas each year. Why is there this behavioral difference between types of hummingbirds?

There are several ecological factors that may influence nest site fidelity in hummingbirds:

Habitat Quality and Availability

In optimal, stable habitat with a consistent food supply, nest fidelity makes sense – females return to productive former sites. When habitats are shifting or temporary, flexibility in nest site selection may be more beneficial as birds seek out new plentiful food sources.

Competition and Predation

High-quality nesting spots may attract competition. Birds may be forced out of a formerly productive site by rival females or other species. Fidelity then declines. Changes in predator populations could also render old nests too risky to reuse.

Brood Parasitism

Brown-headed cowbirds sometimes lay eggs in hummingbird nests, causing failure. Hummingbirds may avoid reusing parasitized nests.


In migratory species like rufous hummingbirds, the challenges of long migrations likely override nest site preferences. Their best habitat shifts dramatically between seasons.

Age and Experience

Younger females may switch nest sites more frequently. Once they build a successful, productive nest, they reuse that location.

Population Size and Density

In dense or growing populations, competition drives birds to new territories. When populations decline or habitats shrink, fewer options may lead to increased site fidelity out of necessity.

The combined influences of these factors in different environments produces varying nesting behaviors between species.

Are the Same Hummingbirds Coming Back to My Feeder Every Year?

Given that some hummingbirds demonstrate nest site fidelity while others move around more, should you expect to see the same individual birds returning to your feeder year after year?

Possibly! Ruby-throated hummingbirds commonly reuse the same summer breeding grounds, and your backyard feeder is likely within their preferred nesting range if they visited previously. Thus, there’s a good chance it could be the same female bird coming to your feeder if it provides a consistent food source within her territory.

However, males are less tied to an exact territory, so a new adult male may take over a breeding area from a prior year. Additionally, the previous year’s young that were hatched nearby often return as adults to sites within a few hundred meters of where they fledged.

New young birds will also visit your feeder. With all of these dynamics, you are likely seeing a mix of returnees along with some new hummingbirds visiting your feeder across seasons, even in species with high site fidelity like ruby-throats.

Providing a continuous source of food, water, and shelter in your yard makes it more likely the same hummingbirds will come back year after year. But the individual birds can be tough to recognize. Banding studies provide the best evidence for tracking return rates of individual hummingbirds across years.

Tips for Attracting Returning Hummingbirds to Your Yard

Here are some tips to make your yard attractive to nesting hummingbirds that may come back year after year:

  • Get hummingbird feeders up by early spring before migration.
  • Use a consistent, high-quality nectar formula.
  • Don’t let feeders go empty for long periods.
  • Provide a water source like a mister or fountain.
  • Plant native flowers and shrubs that bloom through summer.
  • Let vegetation grow a bit wild to provide nesting materials.
  • Avoid pruning trees and shrubs in nesting season.
  • Keep cats indoors so hummingbird nests are safe.
  • Use pesticides sparingly or avoid to maintain insect populations.

With a little effort, you can create an oasis that hummingbirds will seek out year after year as they return to your area. Get to know your backyard visitors and see if you recognize any from previous summers!


Some hummingbird species like ruby-throated hummingbirds exhibit high nest site fidelity, returning to the same locations and even rebuilding on old nests in subsequent years. However, other species appear more nomadic and nest in new areas each year. Factors like habitat quality, competition, and migration likely drive these differences in behavior.

Females often lead nest site selection based on food, materials, safety, and familiarity. Providing consistent habitat in your yard through flowers, feeders, and nesting areas can persuade nesting hummingbirds to come back year after year. With some species, you may host the same individual females at your feeders over multiple summers!

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