Like many species of birds, hummingbirds seek out a more tropical climate for the winter months, and will pack up and head south for the cold season. While some choose to stay in colder climates and not all will travel the same route, the ones that do migrate have a lot to prepare for. No matter where they are going, it’s a rough road ahead. Not all of the questions about migrating hummingbirds have been answered. People still work to track their patterns by banding them, however there are a few pieces of information that we know.
Why do hummingbirds migrate?
You might think that all hummingbirds are in the business of eating nectar from your feeders and flowers, but they also like a good bit of meat. Hummingbirds eat insects and spiders and when they cold months arrive those insects go away. Even with your hummingbird feeder full, they’ll want to go where the food sources are rich and plentiful. Hummingbirds love going places where there is a lot of food because the fight with other territorial hummers is a little less aggressive when there is a lot to eat.
How do hummingbirds prepare for migration?
Hummingbirds get ready for departure by fattening themselves up. That is why it is important if you provide hummingbird nectar for your hummer community, you are aware when the migration season ends and begins. They will need to fuel up before leaving and they will be exhausted when they return, which means more food. Before they leave to migrate, you might notice how large they are getting. They try to double their weight for the journey, so they can get up to 6 grams on the scale. It is thought that some of the little hummers overdo their weight gain goals and end up being too big to make the journey. Other hummingbirds that don’t migrate might not because they are too old or too young.
When do they migrate?
Hummingbirds will start the migration process at different times depending on where they live in the summer. Some will leave as early as July and the beginning of August. Others will wait until September. In fact, you might not even see any leave until October and November in some places. You don’t have to worry about taking your feeder down when it’s time for the hummingbirds to migrate, because they will do it on their own whether you have fresh nectar out or not. They are very smart and will sense the clues that it’s time to move on. When bugs are becoming scarce and disappearing all together, and flowers are no longer blooming, they’ll be ready to move on.
You’ll see your Ruby-throated hummingbird community return at the beginning of March if you live in the southern part of North America. The further north you go, the later it will be, so you’ll see them closer to April and May if you live in places near the Great Lakes, New York, and Alaska. As soon they arrive home from migration in the spring, they will refuel and then begin courting one another and building nests. It’s important that you provide a lot of nectar for them at this time.
How far do they travel?
Hummingbirds can travel across the entire Gulf of Mexico in one night, which is around 500 miles. Their migration can take as many as twenty-two hours or more of flight time. They will often travel an average of twenty-five miles a day and take breaks for a day to two weeks depending on how much rest and food they require to move on. They tend to fly low to the ground, just above the water and close to the tops of trees. Each hummingbird travels alone, and even though they may fly together, this is only because they are going in the same direction. It has nothing to do with them teaming up for the flight. They may also travel in a flock with other birds that are migrating, but once again, this is just due to the fact that so many birds are traveling and they just happened to be traveling at the same time.
There is a myth that hummingbirds travel on the backs of larger birds to take breaks and rest their wings, but this is not true. They fly the entire way with no breaks from other birds. If they see a place to stop that is in the ocean, they may take it to rest on such as oil rigs and other obstacles in the water. Some hummingbirds must travel across the dessert and it is a brutal journey no matter what route the birds are on.
Where do hummingbirds migrate?
It is thought that the male hummingbirds will arrive to their destinations before the females to set up a good area and keep other males out. The woman, depending on the age of their children, may travel with them. They’ll travel to Mexico and many locations in South America. The most species of hummingbirds is found in Ecuador. Their destinations will be tropical places that have plenty of flowers, insects, and spiders.
How can you help hummingbirds during migration?
Pay attention to your hummingbird feeders during migration and keep nectar clean and fresh. While you might see a lot of your regular visitors leave and have very little action at your feeder, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a few late hummers come by. You may even become a place that hummingbirds that are traveling to the coast will stop in for a day or two to rest and refuel.
Migration seasons are a great time to add extra feeders, so you can accommodate all of the hummers that are trying to gain weight. They males won’t be as territorial when there is plenty of food. In the spring, the females will appreciate having nectar options in case one feeder is being guarded. Don’t forget, not all hummingbirds make it to migration for different reasons, so if you see one continue to linger at your feeder all year long, follow the rules for feeding them in the winter, keep their nectar warm, and have a plan for freezing weather.