The arrival of hummingbirds in the spring marks a milestone for many of us. But, after the summer nesting season, where do they go? Let us have a look at the fall hummingbird migration and see what these tiny, endearing birds are up to.
Hummingbirds are found in the Americas all the way from Alaska to the southern tip of South America, and the Caribbean as well.
Some hummingbirds (in warmer climates) never migrate. Others make the long journey to summer in parts of the United States and Canada.
Where we live, the first spring arrivals appear in late April and early May. Plenty of hummingbirds may pass through our area and a few will stay and raise their young.
And, while we think of migrations as flocks, hummingbirds travel solo. It is quite a feat for a tiny bird on its own.
As highly territorial birds, it is common for hummingbirds to nest far apart but frequent the same gardens where they continually chase each other away.
While some hummingbirds in the Western United States do not migrate, most of our broad-tailed hummingbirds in the west or ruby-throated hummingbirds in the east will make the long trek south every fall—starting around Labor Day in early September—all the way to Mexico and Central America, where food will be much more abundant over the winter.
For us in Colorado, the last ones pass by in mid-October, just ahead of first frosts.
For years it was believed that providing nectar (sugar water) feeders may be harmful in autumn, enticing the birds to stay on until it is too late to head south.
But not so. In fact, it is a bonus to have the extra fuel readily available and you can keep your feeders up until you are certain the migrations have all headed south.
Some migrating hummingbirds will be happy with conditions in Texas, Florida and the Gulf Coast and stop there. But most go farther south.
The 4000 Mile Journey
It is quite a journey for the Rufous hummingbirds that start from Alaska—around 4,000 miles over the course of a few weeks.
It is not quite as far for the Ruby-throated hummingbirds that we have here—and into Western Canada as well.
Young Hummingbirds Know the Way
Ruby-throated hummingbirds can store enough fuel—mostly from nectar—to fly that far under the right weather conditions, but conditions in the early fall are often not right.
What is amazing is that hummingbirds born just a couple of months earlier—and who have never been to Central America—will make the journey on their own. We have much to learn about how they find their way.
So, your wee friends from the feeders over the summer will probably be arriving in Mexico and Central America over the next couple of weeks and enjoying the nectar and insects there, along with warmer temperatures.