Specific humming bird migration patterns differ by species and habitats, but there are a few common points linking the different species' migration habits.
All hummingbirds migrate because of the hormonal changes within their bodies which are set off by changes in the length of daylight. This tells the birds when it is time to fly south for the winter.
Where they migrate to depends on the individual bird, but in general, most humming birds winter in Mexico. Some winter as far north as southern California across to Florida, and some journey all the way down to Panama.
In preparation for the big migration, they make sure they pack themselves full of nectar and insects. Such a small bird has to be strong to make such a long flight. Also, when humming birds make this incredible journey, they prefer to travel alone. Unlike geese or ducks, traveling in large groups doesn't increase their chances of survival. Only one bird can feed off of a flower at a time, so waiting for every bird to feed would be a hassle and waste precious time. Also, humming birds are so small that predators usually ignore them anyways, so traveling in large groups offers no extra protection. Just because hummers travel alone, however, does not mean that you will not see more than one humming bird at a time; after all, several may be traveling at the same time and cross paths on their journeys.
They typically travel during the day and rest up at night, except in special situations like that of the ruby-throated humming bird, which travels over the Gulf of Mexico. It takes more than one daylight for them to make it across, so the birds must fly through the night until land is reached.
A journey from the northern United States to the gulf coast would take anywhere from 5-10 days depending on how often they stop to rest. If they travel down to Panama it usually takes about 2 weeks. Humming birds remain in warmer climates until it is time for them to fly north again and mate.
This springtime migration is usually a little bit faster since the females are ready to get started nesting. Again, the hummers pack on a lot of weight for the flight, timing their departure so that they will arrive when the flowering plants are first blooming. Males arrive first and then females anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks later. Males claim their territories and wait for the females, doing fancy flight displays to lure them into their territory. Humming birds waste no time in starting their nesting process.
When fall rolls around, they start to fly south again, and the process repeats itself. The hummers are always in danger when traveling: lack of food, storms, unknown predators, windows?. These guys have to expect anything, and the distances they fly earn them the highest respects considering how small and vulnerable they are.
Hope you enjoyed the article!
George & Judy Steiner
George and wife Judy are empty nesters (ah ha no wonder the affinity for birds!)who enjoy the outdoors, stained glass and eagerly awaiting for the truckloads of laundry that their two college daughters bring home. Of recent, the internet has played an integral part in George's lengthening "To Do" list and Judy's search for a internet rehabilitation center.