When Do Hummingbirds Migrate South?

when do hummingbirds migrate south

Sightings of humming birds are very welcome in gardens all over the country. Knowing when they migrate can help you to get prepared, so you can invite them to spend a few weeks enjoying your garden.

Migrating hummers start to appear in southern states in March, and reach Alaska and Canada in August. Hummingbirds migrate south from May onwards, so they can enjoy the warmer climate in the winter. The very southern parts of the country and South America can enjoy these birds all year round.

During their migration they will need to stop to refuel and rest, so if you know when to expect them, you can have feeders in your garden to provide them with much needed food to help them on their way.

Hummingbird migration

Hummingbirds like to spend the winter in the south of the country, the Caribbean and South America where the climate is warm. They then prepare to migrate to northern areas to nest for the summer, returning to their usual habitat for winter.

Hummers are unusual in the bird world, as they migrate alone. You won’t see large groups of them traveling together but you will see lone hummers as they travel along their migration route. While some of them travel just a few hundred miles, some of them have a long trek of a few thousand miles to the far north of the country.

There are over 300 species of hummingbird, but they don’t all migrate, so you are likely to see just a handful of species head for your yard. They follow the same migration routes every year and they are very predictable, so you can expect to see them every year at the same time. They travel during the day when nectar levels are at their highest, and rest at night. They travel low to the ground so that they can see any opportunities to feed along the way. These long journeys can take anything up to four weeks to complete and if you have your feeders out, they can take advantage of these on their return to the south as well.

The timing of a hummingbird’s migration is mainly down to its own instincts, but it can also be influenced by a number of different factors.

  • Hummers are extremely intelligent birds and they monitor the levels of daylight and the angle of the sun. From this they work out when they need to start adding body fat in preparation for the long journey ahead. When they start their migration they can weigh up to 50% more then they usually do.
  • Their main source of food is nectar, and they know exactly where to go and when to find the best nectar producing flowers. They even have their migration routes planned so they can re fuel on these throughout the journey.
  • While grown hummingbirds feed on nectar, hatchlings rely on insects, so the parents must be in the right area when the eggs are laid. The areas where they choose to nest will be rich in insects so that the young can grow and develop properly.
  • The gender of a hummer can also affect when they start their journey north. The male bird is very territorial and so it will leave earlier than the female. When it reaches its destination it will then set up its territory ready to court the females when they arrive.
  • Younger birds may begin their journey later than older ones. Juvenile birds need more time to build up their strength and so begin their journey a little later.

Some species, such as the Rufous hummingbird need to set off earlier due to the length of their journey. They have the longest migration, traveling up to Alaska and Canada. Birds which don’t have so far to travel will set off later. The earliest migrating hummingbirds can be seen along the Gulf Coast, in Texas and Louisiana, with central and northern states seeing them later.

When do Hummingbirds migrate south?

Not all hummingbird species are migratory. Of the species which are, they all have different migration times and nesting areas. Let’s look at the more common species to see where they go and when.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna’s hummingbird doesn’t migrate and can be seen all year round along the Pacific Coast. They live the furthest north of all hummingbirds and can be seen along the Western coast of North America, and in some southern states.

They usually breed where they live so if you see them they won’t fly off north for nesting. They are adapted to handle colder temperatures if they encounter them by entering a state of torpor.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds

The male heads north for nesting first, and the female follows about 10 days later. They start to prepare for the journey north in January, when they move to the Yucatan peninsular. Here they spend a few weeks building up a layer of fat by eating insects, and they start their flight across the Gulf of Mexico towards the end of February. They generally travel along the eastern coast and the Appalachian Mountains., though some birds prefer to fly across the Gulf of Mexico.

Migration north can be spread over three months with some early hummers arriving at their chosen nesting site as early as mid march.

Migration south begins in late August and will continue through to mid September. They generally fly along the eastern coast along Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winters months anywhere from northern Panama to southern Mexico.

Rufous Hummingbirds

Of all the hummers, the Rufous is one species which has one of the longest journeys. Their journey north starts in February and takes them along the west coast up to British Columbia and Alaska. During their migration they can be seen in California during spring and they even cross the Mojave Desert. They reach their nesting destination during May and then start their long journey back south in August, though some start earlier in July.

They spend the winter along the gulf coast and can be seen in Southern California, Texas, Florida and Mexico.

Costa’s Hummingbirds

Costa’s Hummingbirds live in Mexico and the western part of North America, but they have been seen in Alaska and Canada. By hummingbird standards, they do not travel far for summer and journey only as far as southern California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

Their northern journey starts in February and they reach their nesting territories from mid March. They are often seen in the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert and parts of California. They start their southern migration as early as May.

Allen’s Hummingbirds

These birds stay relatively close to home. They winter in Mexico and southern California, and start their journey north to nest as early as February. They reach their nesting territories of Southern Oregon and the coast of California from March. The Allen’s hummingbird then beings their southward journey in July and August.

Black-Chinned Hummingbirds

The northern journey for the black-chinned hummingbirds takes them up the western part of North America and across central and southern states. They begin their journey in March and arrive in the north west and Canada in May to being nesting.

They spend the winter in the Gulf Coast and Mexico. Their journey south begins later than other birds as they don’t start traveling south until November.

Calliope Hummingbirds

The breeding ground of the Calliope hummingbird takes them into the north western parts of North America and into Canada and Alaska. They begin their long flight in March, and arrive at their nesting ground towards the end of May.

During their flight they can be seen in Arizona and New Mexico. They spend the winter in Mexico and being their flight back to the south in August.

The Calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United States, and yet it can travel 5,000 miles  year to and from its breeding grounds.

Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

These hummers live in Mexico and as far south as Guatemala. They start their migration to the north early, and start to arrive at their nesting grounds from late March onwards.

The first place they appear is Arizona, and by late May they can be seen in Idaho and southern Montana. They will also find nesting places in Colorado and Wyoming. They prefer forest, woodlands and areas with lots of shrub for nesting.

My final thoughts

All hummingbirds have a long journey so planting nectar rich flowers and keeping your feeders out until late autumn will mean they have plenty of food to refuel them when they need to rest. Some people believe that leaving your feeder out later in the year will encourage hummers to stay in your yard. This is not true as their natural instincts will make them head back down south for winter where they know they will find all the food they need until they make their long journey back up north the following year.

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