Hummingbirds are some of the most highly anticipated backyard birds in North America. Knowing when these small birds make their seasonal movements can help backyard birders be prepared to welcome them to and from their yards, gardens, and feeders.
Hummingbird Migration Facts
Each year, hummingbirds embark on two migrations – one north and one south. These migratory journeys, which can span hundreds or thousands of miles, require immense preparation and a shocking amount of energy from these small birds - the smallest in the world.
Their spring migration north, from South America and Mexico up to Canada, is a solitary journey with the goal of getting to their breeding grounds early enough to claim the best feeding territories. With that sort of pressure, this hummingbird migration can begin as early as February in Mexico and finish in mid-May in Canada and Alaska.
The Migration Triggers
Although there are differing views in the birding community as to what triggers the start of migration, it is generally thought that hummingbirds sense changes in daylight duration, and changes in the abundance of flowers, nectar and insects. Instinct also plays a role in making the decision to migrate.
The further hummingbirds have to migrate, the sooner they start their journey. The rufous hummingbird, for example, has the longest migration of any hummingbird species—traveling between Mexico and Alaska—and may begin migrating long before other hummingbird species are traveling.
Making the Trip
Hummingbirds fly by day when nectar sources such as flowers are more abundant. Flying low allows the birds to see, and stop at, food supplies along the way. They are also experts at using tail winds to help reach their destination faster and by consuming less energy and body fat.
Research indicates a hummingbird can travel as much as 23 miles in one day. However, those that make the 500 mile flight from Florida to the Yucatan do it in 18-22 hours non-stop, depending on wind conditions.
Knowing when hummingbirds migrate gives birders a migration timeline to anticipate when they will see these beautiful birds, and taking steps to help them will ensure successful migrations for generations of hummingbirds to come.