The craze of attracting hummingbirds to your backyards is quite different from that of the other birds. These bright little birdies, with their continually flapping wings, are a wonder to behold. But can you find these birds in your backyard all year round?
Do hummingbirds migrate? Yes, hummingbirds are migratory in nature. Most of the hummingbird species, particularly those found in the United States, migrate South, spending their winters in Central America or Mexico, and then travel back towards the North to their breeding grounds during Spring. In fact, Anna’s Hummingbirds are the only non-migratory hummingbirds.
In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about hummingbird migration. We will talk about the different migratory patterns of different hummingbird species, the factors that influence their migration, and how you can help them with it.
Why do hummingbirds migrate?
As we’ve already mentioned earlier, hummingbirds are the smallest members of the avian world, with even the largest species, Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas), measuring only 8 inches in length. The diminutive size of these birds might make one wonder whether they’re capable of traveling long distances annually.
However, when it comes to migration, hummingbirds really do take us all by surprise. Despite their size, these birds cover long distances during migration. But why migrate at all? Well, the reasons that drive most birds to migration apply to the hummingbirds as well. Food is their main motivation behind it. As winter approaches the northern areas (where they breed), these nectarivores face severe food scarcity due to the shrinking vegetation.
Therefore, they embark on a journey southward, hoping to find more food sources there to sustain them throughout the winters. What might initially have been necessary for them eventually became their basic instinct and remains so to this date.
Apart from the search for food, the dropping temperatures and decreasing daylight hours of their breeding locations are also some of the factors that drive them to migrate.
Hummingbird species found in the United States
Have you ever noticed how you always spot hummingbirds around in specific seasons and not all year round? It is because most of the hummingbird species visit North America during migration and breed in the southern regions. Anna’s Hummingbirds are the only exception to it, as they inhabit North America as a permanent resident.
Below is a list of hummingbird species that you are likely to spot around you if you reside in North America. Check it out:
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
- Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia yucatanensis)
- Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope)
- Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)
- Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)
- Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costae)
- Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
- Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax lucifer)
- Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)
- Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens)
- Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)
How do different hummingbird species migrate?
How do Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate?
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds begin their fall migration a little early, usually around August and September. After traveling for roughly two months, they arrive at their destination, which happens to be between southern Mexico and northern Panama, in November. Because this species is solitary in nature, they can be found anywhere within the range.
Upon reaching their final destination, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds begin to molt. As the process of molting takes its toll on these birdies, they compensate for it by gorging on nectar and other foods they can find. Towards the end of January, all of their feathers grow back, and they begin to fatten themselves up before it’s time for them to fly back north.
Some individuals begin their spring migration a little early, in late February, but most of them return in March. During the first week of March, you can spot the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. These birds keep traveling until mid-May when they finally reach their breeding destination.
How do Broad-tailed Hummingbirds migrate?
The Broad-tailed Hummingbirds begin their southward migration for winters quite early and can be seen leaving their breeding/nesting grounds as early as August. Their final destination in this migration is Mexico and South America, where these birdies will spend their winters.
The next year, they embark on their spring migration between late February and early March. The individuals that breed in southern Arizona reach their destination early, while those heading further north towards southern Montana and Idaho will arrive home around May.
How do Costa’s Hummingbirds migrate?
Popular for their hunched posture, Costa’s Hummingbirds are fairly small in size, even for the hummingbirds. As you can imagine, these little birds do not travel a long distance when they migrate. In fact, in most cases, it is seen that they might stay at the same place all year round as long as they have ample food supply. If you are a California resident, you might have seen these tiny hummingbirds around even outside of their season at times.
The arid areas of Arizona and California provide Costa’s Hummingbirds with ideal breeding grounds. Those individuals that do migrate south for winters begin their journey in the fall and stay in Mexico until coming February when they’re reading to return home.
Pro-tip: If you reside in a region where Costa’s Hummingbirds are known to frequent, it would be a good idea to keep your bird-feeder out all year round.
How do Black-chinned Hummingbirds migrate?
The Black-chinned Hummingbirds are considered the most adaptable hummingbird species you can find in the United States. It is because they’re quite flexible about their habitat and can easily live in urban areas as well.
During the breeding season, the Black-chinned Hummingbirds can be found in the western parts of the United States. While most adults stay put in these areas until they have to migrate south, some prefer to fly to the nearby mountain range to feast on the mountain flowers.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds leave their nesting grounds for migration quite early in comparison to the other hummingbird species. Their travel south begins in June; while some of them spend their winters in the western parts of Mexico, others choose to reside in the Gulf Coast.
After spending a long winter in the south, the Black-chinned Hummingbirds fly back north in March, reaching their breeding destination around May.
How do Calliope Hummingbirds migrate?
Smaller in size than Costa’s Hummingbirds, the Calliope Hummingbirds are endemic to the United States. These hummingbirds prefer to nest in open shrub habitats. However, unlike Costa’s Hummingbirds, they travel as far as 5,000 miles during migration.
Calliope Hummingbirds travel south early in an effort to reach their destination (ranging between Mexico and Guatemala) by November. These birds take the route down the Rocky Mountain range for their fall migration.
After spending the winters in Mexico and Guatemala, these hummingbirds prepare for their return in February and are on their way back to their breeding grounds (northwestern America) before the month ends.
How do Allen’s Hummingbirds migrate?
Commonly found in the meadows, gardens, and woods of California, Allen’s Hummingbirds are the hummingbird species that spend the least time outside of their breeding ground.
These hummingbirds migrate South to their winter destination as late as December and barely spend a month there before they fly back home in January. Most of these birds stay in the Southern parts of California all year round.
Fun fact: During their breeding season, both sexes of Allen’s Hummingbirds inhabit different locations. While the females are in the forest, building their nest, the males establish their territory in the coastal shrub.
How do Rufous Hummingbirds migrate?
Just like Calliope Hummingbirds, the Rufous Hummingbirds are yet another hummingbird species that travel a fairly long distance in migration despite their small size.
These hummingbirds begin their fall migration as early as July, which makes sense as they have to cover a vast distance. Their winter destination lies in the southern parts of Mexico, where they reach around November, after traveling for four long months. Not to mention that these birds prefer to take the Rocky Mountain route down south instead of the Gulf route, which would be easier for them.
After spending about two months in Mexico, the Rufous Hummingbirds prepare to fly back home relatively early, in January. It takes them about the same time to migrate north, and they reach their breeding grounds in May.
How do Anna’s Hummingbirds migrate?
Anna’s Hummingbirds are the only hummingbird species found in the United States that do not migrate. These birds will travel short distances in search of food or habitat, but that’s about it. They’re not keen on long-distance travel and remain non-migratory.
Factors that influence migration in hummingbirds
In the last section, we learned how different hummingbird species begin their migration at different times and travel to different destinations. But have you ever wondered why that happens? Well, it is because there are different factors that influence these hummingbirds to migrate. Let’s talk about some of these factors:
As most of you might already know, nectar-producing flowers are essential natural food sources for hummingbirds. Therefore, as you can imagine, the dwindling availability of nectar-producing flowers is often a strong indication for the hummingbirds that it is time to travel south.
The availability of food sources not only determines when these birds start migration but also how fast they travel and, more essentially, the route they are likely to take. Hummingbirds usually prefer the routes where they can find an abundance of nectar and sap sources to keep them going.
Age is another factor that plays a key role in hummingbird’s migration. The adult hummingbirds that have migrated previously are more prepared for the journey and, hence, end up migrating earlier in the season.
On the other hand, it takes the juveniles a little more time to build up their strength and immunity before embracing the long journey ahead of them.
Similarly, broods roosted earlier in the year are more likely to start migrating earlier than those roosted in the latter part of the breeding seasons.
Gender is not a significant factor in the migration of most hummingbird species. However, in some species, such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the males tend to begin their journey earlier than the females. Wondering why? The reason behind it is quite chivalrous.
The males leave early so that they can arrive at the destination earlier and establish their territory, which later happens to benefit them in attracting a prospective female partner. Males practice it both in the fall and spring migration.
Weather changes do not usually play a significant role in hummingbirds’ migration. At best, sudden changes like storms might delay their journey for a day or two, but that’s all.
How can you help?
Thanks to the efforts of the backyard birders, the population of hummingbirds has been increasing steadily over the last few years. However, there are some quick steps you can also take to help ensure that these birds are well-fed and taken care of. Let’s take a look at some of them:
1. In addition to adding hummingbird feeders, you can also plant some nectar-producing plants in your backyard. It will provide the hummingbirds with a natural as well as an artificial food source, inviting them in.
2. Small birds like hummingbirds struggle with building nests as they have to make several trips to collect the nesting materials. You can make their job easier by collected dry twigs and sticks in your yard and placing them somewhere from where these birds can easily spot them.
3. The late-migrating hummingbirds often suffer from a food crisis as the nectar birder put out for them freezes before they can drink it. If you take measures to keep the nectar unfrozen for them, it will save them from hunger and give them strength to begin their long journey.
4. To ensure the well-being of the hummingbirds that feed on your feeders, make sure to clean them regularly and remove the nectar if it has been spoiled.
The myth of food preventing hummingbirds from migrating
While it is true that food can be a major influence on hummingbird migration, to think that offering them more food can prevent their migration would be foolish.
Over time, migration has become a biological need for the hummingbirds, and you cannot do anything about it, no matter how much food you offer them.
Instead of wasting nectar all year round, you should set up their feeder about two weeks in advance and be prepared for their arrival.
Frequently asked questions
Do hummingbirds migrate with geese?
No, they do not. While the myth of hummingbirds migrating on the back of the geese is quite popular, there is no truth behind it. Hummingbirds and geese reside in different environments, and their migration time, as well as the venue, is different from each other. Therefore, there’s no way that the two can migrate together.
Do hummingbirds migrate in the night?
No. Hummingbirds usually migrate during the day and rest at night.
Do the juvenile hummingbirds migrate alongside the adults?
The juvenile hummingbirds embrace their migration journey during the second wave of migration with adult females. However, these little birdies do not necessarily travel with the adults but instead follow their newfound instincts to fly south enthusiastically.
Conclusion: Do hummingbirds migrate?
Let’s revisit our initial question: do hummingbirds migrate? Yes, they do. While most people might not expect these birdies to migrate due to their size, they are quite skilled at it, with some hummingbird species traveling as far as 4,000-5,000 miles.
Most hummingbird species start their migration journey between early autumn and late fall, aiming to reach a warmer, southern destination before the temperature becomes freezing and vegetation scarce. And around the arrival of spring, these birds return to their nesting grounds to indulge in courtship rituals and breeding.