Discover When Hummingbirds Are Set to Emerge in Kentucky

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
© Steve Byland/ via Getty Images

Written by Deniz Martinez

Published: March 5, 2024

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Did you know Kentucky only has one truly native hummingbird species? That’s right, only the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) calls Kentucky a home state. Furthermore, this is the only breeding hummingbird species east of the Mississippi River! Like other hummingbird species, they are strongly dimorphic, with males sporting more colorful plumage, including an iridescent red throat patch called a gorget. Read on to find out when these little flying jewels are in the state, where they go when they leave, and what other species may pop in for a visit.

When Did Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds Leave Kentucky?

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird looking for a feeder

Just as the adult males are usually first to arrive in spring, they are often the first to leave in fall.

©CarolinaBirdman/iStock via Getty Images

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are not year-round residents of Kentucky. They begin their annual autumn migration season after breeding and raising their young through the summer. During this time, the birds who stayed to breed (and their young!) join up with others flying back down from more northern territories. The departing waves usually start traveling through Kentucky in late August to early September, with most gone by mid-September (though a few may linger into early November).

Where Did Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds Spend the Winter After Leaving Kentucky?

Ruby-throated hummingbird range map

This map illustrates the range of the

ruby-throated hummingbird

. Orange represents its breeding range, yellow is its extended migration range, and blue is its overwintering range.

©Jebbles / CC0 Public Domain – Original / License

Most Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate south annually to overwintering grounds in Florida, Mexico, and Central America. Astoundingly, many will cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single super-powered nonstop flight!

When Do Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds Return to Kentucky?

Ruby Throated Hummingbird at Feeder

Putting up a hummingbird feeder during spring migration season is a great way to coax ruby-throated hummingbirds to stay in Kentucky and breed!

©Christine Balleau/iStock via Getty Images

Ruby-throated hummingbirds will return to Kentucky during their annual spring migration season. Many will just pass through as they migrate as far north as southern Canada. However, others will stick around and make Kentucky their home for the breeding season. The males usually arrive first to claim breeding territories, beginning as early as the end of March into early April. The females will then arrive around mid-April to choose mates and nest. If you want to entice these migrating hummingbirds into making your home theirs for the season, you can attract them by planting their favorite nectar flowers and hanging hummingbird nectar feeders!

Do Other Hummingbirds Visit Kentucky, Too?

While the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only official native species in the Eastern U.S., several other species from western and southern North America and Central America occasionally turn up as “vagrants.” They may have been blown in by storms, been thrown off course during migration, hitchhiked on vehicles or cargo, or otherwise just managed to break new ground for their species! At least four such vagrant species have been recorded in Kentucky in recent decades:

1. Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)

Rufous Hummingbird flaring it's gorget

The male rufous hummingbird distinguishes itself from the ruby-throated hummingbird by its brilliant orange coloration.

©punkbirdr/Shutterstock.com

While the rufous hummingbird is native to western North America, it appears as a vagrant east of the Rockies more frequently than any other western species. It will most likely turn up as a special visitor to Kentucky from the autumn migration season into early winter. The most recent spotting in the state was in January 2024.

2. Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin

Beautiful male Allen's hummingbird perched, side view.

The male Allen’s hummingbird exhibits an overall coppery appearance.

©Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock.com

This is a rare western species visitor to Kentucky. The most recent sighting was in January 2024.

3. Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypta anna)

Male Anna's Hummingbird

The male Anna’s hummingbird distinguishes itself from the other similarly-colored species with an iridescent reddish-pink cap to match its scarf.

©Devonyu /Shutterstock.com

This is another rare western species visitor to Kentucky. It has only been recorded once in the state during the winter of 2021-22.

4. Black-Chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)

Black chinned hummingbird

The male “black-chinned” hummingbird sports a beautiful deep purple gorget too.

©rck_953/Shutterstock.com

This third rare western species visitor has also been recorded just once in Kentucky, back in the winter of 2015-16.

Conclusion

The ruby-throated hummingbird is Kentucky’s only native hummingbird species. This migratory species will arrive in the state from their overwintering grounds during the spring migration, usually from early March into mid-April. While some will continue further north, others will stay in the state for breeding season. They will leave again for autumn migration beginning at the end of August. There are also at least four other hummingbird species that, while not native to the state, have been recorded as rare visitors. If you want to make whatever hummingbirds appear in your area feel welcome, provide them with a hummingbird-friendly habitat!


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About the Author

Deniz Martinez is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on biogeography, ornithology, and mammalogy. Deniz has been researching, teaching, and writing about animals for over 10 years and holds both an MS degree from American Public University earned in 2016 and an MA degree from Lindenwood University earned in 2022. A resident of Pennsylvania, Deniz also runs Art History Animalia, a website and associated social media dedicated to investigating intersections of natural history with art & visual culture history via exploring animal iconography.

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