Hummingbirds are incredibly interesting creatures, and hummingbird migration is no exception.
Their migration patterns in different parts of the world have long been studied, and many hummingbird enthusiasts regularly track their migration patterns to keep up with them.
Whether you’re just learning about hummingbirds or you consider yourself somewhat of an expert, we think you’ll enjoy reading this information about hummingbird migration and other interesting facts about the birds.
Most hummingbirds travel in the daytime when they can easily spot food sources.
During their migration, they regularly stop for food which gives them the energy to keep going. And with hearts that beat up to 1260 times per minute and wings that flap 15-80 times a second, it’s no wonder they require so much energy! In a single day, hummingbirds can travel as far as 23 miles.
Hummingbird Body Fat
These clever creatures use tailwinds to help them travel even faster while preserving energy and body fat.
Before a hummingbird begins their migration, they will gain 25-40% of their body weight for additional energy preserves. This additional body fat helps keep them going, and with journeys that can span hundreds or even thousands of miles, it’s easy to see why this extra body fat is useful.
Why do Hummingbirds Migrate?
Hummingbird migration happens for a very important reason: it allows the birds to get to places with more abundant food sources for that time of year, and it also decreases food and territory competition.
Interestingly, hummingbirds are notoriously territorial and they like to have their space. In some cases, that means traveling halfway across the world to get that space!
When do Hummingbirds Migrate?
There are over 300 recognized hummingbird species, and they migrate twice a year, although they don’t all follow the same migration pattern.
However, there is one species of hummingbird - the Anna’s hummingbird - that doesn’t migrate and tends to stay in the same general area all year long.
While most hummingbirds start their journey in Central or South America, some will make it as far north as Canada during their migration.
For their spring migration, some hummingbirds begin their journey as early as February or as late as May. For their fall migration, it can span from late July to late October in certain parts of North America.
For those who live in North America, you’ll find the time from July to October is a great time for hummingbird watching. At this time, they’re on the lookout for food sources to build their stores of energy for their journey back south.
Now that we’ve discussed some of the basics of hummingbird migrations, let’s explore the specific migratory patterns of certain hummingbird species.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Migration
In North America, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the one you’ll see the most of. In fact, it’s often the only one you’ll find in eastern North America. Most of them spend their winters between southern Mexico and northern Panama where they’re busy gaining weight for their next journey north.
Most ruby-throated hummingbirds molt in November, then spend December working on gaining weight. By January, their feathers begin to come in as they continue to focus on feeding. Some begin to migrate north from Mexico and Central America in February, although most of them start their trip in March.
Unlike other birds that fly in flocks, ruby-throated hummingbirds are solitary creatures that make their trips on their own. They also tend to follow the same path in both directions.
Rufous Hummingbird Migration
The rufous hummingbird breeds farther north than any other hummingbird, and each year, their migratory pattern is nothing short of impressive. During the winter, they reside in southern Mexico.
When it comes time to make their trip north, they’ll often travel over 4,000 miles to reach their summer homes in Canada or Alaska. Although they travel north along the West Coast, they usually travel back down south by following the Rocky Mountains instead.
Broad-Tailed Hummingbird Migration
Another hummingbird species that migrates into North America is known as the broad-tailed hummingbird. This bird is known for their loud, cricket-like sound they’ll make and the males have relatively large heads for hummingbirds.
The adults will migrate before the females and their young during both migrations. They tend to travel north along the lowlands but head back down south through the mountains.
Climate Change and Hummingbird Migration
Does climate change have an effect on hummingbird migration? This is a particular topic of interest for ornithologists and bird enthusiasts. The fear is hummingbirds will show up expecting food once they’ve finished their migration journey only to find that flowers haven’t bloomed and food sources aren’t available.
While this has proven to be a possibility, hummingbirds have the unique ability to alter their migration pattern according to the resources along the way. That means they tend to adapt to weather patterns and much more, and they have the ability to seek out new food sources when they need to.
Factors that Influence Migration
We’ve shared that not every hummingbird migrates at the same time or with the same pattern. Why is this? As it turns out, there are several factors that influence hummingbird migration, including the weather patterns we just discussed.
On top of weather conditions, these are some things that can affect how and when a hummingbird migrates.
Age: More mature hummingbirds tend to begin their migratory journey earlier than young ones. A younger hummingbird needs more time to build up its energy stores.
Distance: Understandably, the farther a hummingbird has to travel, the sooner they tend to start their trip. Because the rufous hummingbird tends to travel the furthest north, they usually start their journey before many other hummingbird species.
Sex: Across certain hummingbird species, males tend to start the migration just a few days before females, including the ruby-throated hummingbird. This allows the males to reach their destination, set up shop, and be prepared to court the females once they arrive.
Food sources: Along a hummingbird’s migratory path, they’ll come across a variety of food sources. The availability of these food sources plays a big role in their timing and travel pattern. Once a food source is no longer available, they’ll move on to places they know are rich in natural food sources.
Estimated Spring Arrival Times for Hummingbirds
Depending on where in the United States you live, you can expect hummingbirds to arrive sometime in the spring.
To find out when you can expect to see them in your yard, have a look at this chart with estimated spring arrival times.
- Alabama: The second week of March
- Alaska: The first week of April
- Arizona: The first week of March
- Arkansas: The third week of March
- California: The fourth week of April
- Colorado: The third week of April
- Connecticut: The first week of March
- Delaware: The third week of March
- Florida: The fourth week of April
- Georgia: The fourth week of April
- Idaho: The first week of April
- Illinois: The fourth week of April
- Indiana: The first week of April
- Iowa: The fourth week of April
- Kansas: The second week of April
- Kentucky: The second week of March
- Louisiana: The first week of March
- Maine: The fourth week of April
- Maryland: The third week of March
- Massachusetts: The fourth week of April
- Michigan: The first week of May
- Minnesota: The first week of May
- Mississippi: The third week of March
- Missouri: The third week of March
- Montana: The fourth week of April
- New England: The fourth week of April
- Nevada: The first week of May
- New Hampshire: The first week of May
- New Jersey: The fourth week of April
- New Mexico: The first week of April
- New York: The fourth week of April
- North Carolina: The third week of March
- North Dakota: The second week of May
- Ohio: The fourth week of April
- Oklahoma: The first week of April
- Oregon: The second week of March
- Pennsylvania: The first week of April
- Rhode Island: The third week of April
- South Carolina: The third week of March
- South Dakota: The first week of May
- Tennessee: The first week of April
- Texas: The first week of March
- Utah: The fourth week of March
- Vermont: The first week of May
- Virginia: The first week of April
- Washington: The second week of March
- West Virginia: The third week of March
- Wisconsin: The first week of May
- Wyoming: The first week of May
Now that you know when you can expect hummingbirds to arrive in your area, what can you do to bring them to your yard and help keep them there?
The best way to attract hummingbirds is to hang a hummingbird feeder that’s well-stocked with nectar. This nectar is made of sucrose and water, and it’s their primary food source, along with the nectar they get from plants.
If you’d like to make your own hummingbird nectar, simply combine four parts water with one part sugar, and mix until the sugar dissolves. Alternatively, we also offer ready to use hummingbird nectar.
It’s also important to keep your hummingbird feeders clean and stocked with nectar at all times. Ideally, the nectar should be changed at least every 3-4 days, but even more frequently during hot weather. Look out for nectar getting moldy as this can pose health problems for the tiny birds.
Hummingbirds will also take notice of your feeders always being stocked and it will encourage them to return, year after year. Try to hang your feeders up two weeks before their expected arrival to welcome any early birds.
Spacing Out Your Hummingbird Feeders
As we’ve discussed, hummingbirds are incredibly territorial and they do not like to compete for food. You may even be able to spot dominant hummingbirds confronting and charging “intruders” to keep them away from where they feed.
If you put hummingbird feeders too close together in your yard, the birds are less likely to stick around. They’ll feel threatened and move on to other spots where they don’t have to compete as much for food.
A yard with a stocked feeder spaced far away from other bird feeders is likely to keep hummingbirds coming back, day after day and season after season.
For more information on how to attract hummingbirds, visit this post where we share our seven top tips for getting them to your yard and keeping them there all summer long!
Spotting hummingbirds when they arrive for the season is something many people look forward to every year. When you know their migration patterns, you can prepare for their arrival and make the most of the time they’re around!