Both species follow the Pacific flyway north, following plants as they bloom on the way to their breeding grounds. The timing of the blooms determines the rate at which they migrate, but year after year their returns to a location fall on remarkably similar dates (though getting earlier with climate change). Hummingbirds rely on the presence of these plants and their flowers for survival- they feed on the nectar, and in turn the plants get pollinated.
Many gardeners like to attract hummingbirds to their yards, and why not, they are some of nature’s marvels; them, and my cat, Squeak. Conventionally, many think of hummingbird plants as ones with showy, red, tubular flowers, but that is really not the only case. In fact, many of those flowers are probably not native where you live and may do little to attract hummingbirds to your garden. For example, where I live, hummingbirds arrive in early spring and stay around to nest nearby. The most activity we get is from April- early June and then again when they head back south as the summer ends. When they arrive in early spring they are looking for something to eat. We do set out feeders (see the Calliope on our feeder, above), but it is really the plants that keep them in our yard.
The best way to provide food for hummingbirds and to attract them to your yard is to mimic what is flowering when they arrive. In my area, the arrival of these little travelers coincides with some very non-traditional looking hummingbird plants. However, early spring is crtitical for providing food for hummingbirds. Habitat loss and loss of native plants and the conversion of many of these habitats have reduced their natural foods.
The first to flower here are wax currant (Ribes cereum), serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), golden currant (photo at the top of the post, Ribes aureum), Oregon grape (photo above, Mahonia repens), hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), and Jacob's ladder (photo below, Polemonium pulcherrimum), and even shrubby penstemon (photo at the bottom of the post, Penstemon fruiticosa). Not coincidentally, these same early flowering plants (wax and golden currant, serviceberry, and hawthorn, in particular) are important to other birds for their early producing fruits. Because they are the first to flower they are the first to fruit. The fruiting is timed to the nutritional needs of many birds nesting and caring for their nestlings.
Although adults will only feed their young nestlings insects and worms, the adults need the nourishment and easy foraging that fruits provide. Thrushes, robins, spotted towhees, northern flickers and the ever more common blue jays will eats golden current berries in our yard. The fruits of the hawthorn never last long on our tree, and the serviceberry fruits are checked daily by many species of birds for their ripeness, and they are devoured as soon as that point is reached.