The migration of hummingbirds is an amazing thing since hummingbirds have many different fly zones or paths in which they travel from one habitat to another. These little birds can fly far and fast. There are a few types or species of hummingbirds that make this journey every spring* and fall*.
It is believed that hummingbirds are very keen on the changes in daylight and the declining insect and flower population every year before migration. It is also believed that a chemical change occurs pushing the little hummingbirds to migrate. Some report that hummingbirds will follow the flower population; still others state that they follow the insect population. These are only speculations. No one really knows for sure why hummingbirds migrate.
Each time before a hummingbird starts migration, they need to eat a lot of insects and nectar to fatten up. A hummingbird will gain 25-40% of their body weight before they start migration. If a larger bird gained that much weight, they would not be able to get off the ground. During this time you may notice a hummingbird swarm around your feeders.
While hummingbird migration occurs on the same common fly zones, they do so alone. The best analogy is that hummingbirds are like commuters on a freeway, all going the same way on the same road, but doing so alone to get to their own individual homes. Hummingbird will migrate alone for many reasons. First of all, hummingbirds are so small that most predators have difficulty seeing them. If they flocked together, they would be a larger, more readily seen, target. Also, a hummingbird must stop frequently to feed at a flower or feeder, even during migration. To have a flock of hummingbirds waiting in line for a flower to refill doesn't work. Plus, during hummingbird flight, there is just not enough body mass to make a wake in the air currents for others.
When hummingbirds are migrating, they usually do not stay very high off the ground. They have been reported to fly just above treetop level over land or pretty much skimming the top of the water ways. It is believed they do this to keep an eye out for a food or nectar opportunity on their long journey.
While migrating, hummingbirds generally will fly during the day and sleep at night. When the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are flying over the Gulf of Mexico during migration, there is no place to land to sleep, so they must keep on going. Many years ago, fisherman and oil rig workers would report seeking hummingbirds zip by them out in the gulf 200 miles away from land. The hummingbirds could be seen flying low over the water toward shore. The workers started to notice this happening every year, recording the common migration routes taken by the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. It's amazing to think that these little tiny fluffs of feathers would travel over 450 miles of water with a 20 mile an hour headwind (with more than 20 hours of travel time) to make it to their favorite breeding grounds. It must be love.
Many hummingbirds will also have to cross other obstacles during migration, like the Mojave Desert. There have been reports of an occasional Rufous Hummingbird falling out of the sky on the migration route to and from Alaska.
Hummingbirds will try to use the winds to their advantage every chance they get. Researchers in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania found that hummingbirds will migrate in larger numbers when the winds were blowing in the direction they wished to go, and even more so when the winds were strong.
Hummingbirds will migrate north in the spring* and start to arrive in February in the Southern United States and as far north as Alaska in May. They will then migrate south to Mexico and Central America in the fall* starting in August through October.
Hummingbirds do not migrate on the backs of geese. This is a common myth started by the pilgrims who didn't know any better at the time. Geese fly a different route than hummingbirds and have different needs.
Migration will last anywhere from one (1) to four (4) weeks averaging about twenty to twenty-five (20-25) miles per day. During this time, they will spend most of their time flying with some rest stops for food, nectar, and sleep. They will only stay in one place for one (1) to fourteen (14) days at a time.
The males will arrive in their seasonal home about three (3) weeks before the females. There are some that believe that the females and young ones follow the male's bright colors. There is also the belief that the males will protect the females and young and by establishing a territory in a good location, fighting off the other males, before the females arrive.
The first thing all hummingbirds will do upon arrival at their destination is fatten up. The males will establish their territory and start trolling for females. The female will start looking for the best looking guy and then maybe a nest location.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds fly zone is along the Eastern Coast of the United State along the Appalachian Mountains starting in February and as far south as Panama in the winter* starting in September. Some will travel over land to and from Central America while many others trek over the Gulf of Mexico.
The Black-Chinned Hummingbirds fly zone is from the Southern United States and Mexico through British Columbia. The spring* migration starts in March throughout the Southern United States reaching the North Western United States and British Columbia in May. They will start to leave British Columbia in September and return to Mexico by November.
The Calliope Hummingbirds will migrate in their fly zone in the spring* starting in March and arrive in British Columbia starting in late May. They will then turn around and start to head back to their winter* home in August.
The Broad-Tailed Hummingbird will arrive for spring* in the Arizona area in late march and arrive in the north-western states in May. They will start to migrate south* for winter* in late September or October.
The Rufous Hummingbirds has a long fly-zone and will start in February and will travel along the west coast to British Columbia and Alaska by the end of April. They will travel in the fall* starting in August to reach their winter* destinations in southern and coastal California, along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, and throughout Mexico.
Costa's Hummingbirds have a shorter fly zone and will spend their summer* in Southern California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. They arrive staring in early February and start to head back to their winter* destination in May.
Allen's Hummingbirds also has a shorter fly zone will winter* in Southern California and Mexico and summer* up the California Coast into Southern Oregon starting in February. They will head back to their winter* homes in July and August.
For a Hummingbird Migration Map to better see the hummingbird fly zones, please click on the link on the left side of this page.
*Note: Northern Hemisphere time.