Only one species of hummingbird breeds in Québec:

Ruby-throated hummingbird - Archilochus colubris - Colibri à gorge rubis

Adult male: the throat appears ruby or black depending on the lighting.

Female or juvenile
With the naked eye, it is impossible to tell an adult female from a young female or a young male unless the latter has one or more red feathers. Flecks on the throat are not an identification criterion, as females may also have them.

In such cases, the only way to determine the sex is by the shape of the sixth primary (wing feather).


The only way to distinguish between an adult female and a juvenile is by the corrugations on the bill: on an adult, these will be worn down.

Juvenile bill with corrugations
Adult smooth bill

Sphinx moths may be mistaken for hummingbirds.  For more information on these insects:

Diurnal sphinx moth

A bit more info
  • Feeders should be hung as early as mid-April

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are solitary, highly territorial migratory birds that winter in Mexico and Central America and return to Québec every year in May to breed.  They feed on flower nectar and insects, and they don’t wander randomly: the location of every food source along their migration corridor is stored in their phenomenal memories, guiding their route.  Watching them over the years, I’ve even come to believe they convey this knowledge of where the supply points are genetically to their offspring.

When feeders came out in the late 70s, hummingbirds changed their behaviour: they started visiting our backyards in greater numbers, and we probably increased the world hummingbird population.  They used to start showing up in our regions about May 15-20; now there seem to be more returning in early May.  In an attempt to claim especially good territories discovered in previous years, some will arrive as early as April 20, and at that time of year in these latitudes, there isn’t much to eat except the sugar water in our feeders.  Sometimes they even venture north while there is still snow on the ground; I’ve seen this happen in the Québec City region in early May and the results can be disastrous, as for all insect-eating species.

Very important: Don’t wait until your first bird arrives to hang your feeder, especially if you live in an area where there aren’t many hummingbird lovers.  Think what would happen if one of your little protégés shows up really early, because you’ve given it the impression there will always be food around – and then there isn’t any.  It means certain death if you aren’t there, if it’s late in the day and cold out and the bird doesn’t have time to find another food source.  Why run the risk?

  • Leave your feeders up until mid- or late October.

There may be a very small number of hummingbirds whose biological clocks and migratory instincts are a little “off”.  Don’t worry, feeding them won’t discourage them from leaving – but, again, it could keep them alive.

  • How can I attract lots of hummingbirds to my yard?

The key to attracting hummingbirds to your yard is to make an impression the first time they come and then gradually broaden your offer to new locations to accommodate their territorial nature. You have to understand their lifestyle, and be patient and persistent; this isn’t something you can do in a single season.

A yard where 240 hummingbirds can be captured in one summer (and that’s only part of the total number) doesn’t happen by accident.  We started out in 2000 by hanging two feeders on a wooded lot to attract our first birds.  Hummingbirds are territorial and don’t like to share their treasure troves, so as more started coming, we kept raising the number of feeders proportionally until there were more than thirty during peak periods.  The time they spend here is divided into three periods: the spring migration, the nesting period and the fall migration.  During the spring and fall migrations, there are a lot of hummingbirds, but during the nesting period, the numbers go down drastically and they become very low-profile.  During this period, the number of feeders can be decreased, but it’s important not to neglect them because you could miss the fall migration.

Now you get to have fun!

Hummingbird feeders

There are several feeder models on the market.  The two below are the ones we prefer: they’re tough; they’re made out of glass which makes them long-lasting and easy to clean; they have perches where the birds can rest; and, unlike the cheap models, the red colour doesn’t fade.

(Note: Don’t use colouring as shown)

Model used in Stoke
Model used in Richmond

The wasp guards can be removed so that other birds can use the feeder.

Easy nectar recipe

Sound research has shown that the ideal recipe, the one that comes closest to flower nectar, is as follows:

1 part sugar to 4 parts good quality water.

In the spring (until May 15-20) and in September, a more concentrated mix can be used:

1 part sugar to 3 parts water.

Boil the water and add the sugar.  You can make a large batch and keep it in the refrigerator.

Please don’t use commercial mixes, colourings or other additives like honey, maple syrup, etc.

Let’s not take unnecessary risks.

If hummingbirds don’t visit your feeder, maybe they just haven’t found it yet.  Or the water quality may not be good enough for them.  The added chemicals in municipally treated water are often a repellent.