The Migration Patterns of Hummingbirds in the United States

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February 7, 2022
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As memorable as the sight of a hummingbird is, many people find themselves interested in trying to bring more of them to their backyards. One of the best ways to bring hummingbirds to your backyard is to start with learning more about them. When you take the time to learn about how hummingbirds interact with the world around them, you can make your backyard better-suited to the hummingbirds that pass through.

One thing that you will learn as you look into how hummingbirds behave and what drives them is the fact that hummingbirds in the United States are generally migratory creatures, moving southward as the weather begins to turn cold.

Are Hummingbirds Migratory Creatures?

It can be a bit difficult to answer if hummingbirds are entirely migratory or not. There are over 340 species of hummingbird that are found in the western hemisphere of the world. Out of this number, only 15 species of hummingbirds live in the United States. There are nine more that will migrate across borders, but do not exclusively reside in the United States.

Out of this fraction of hummingbird species, there are six hummingbird species that remain in the United States during the winter, which is when hummingbirds typically migrate. Out of these species, there are three that do not have standard migration patterns. This means that out of the hundreds of hummingbird species that can be found within the country, only three of them do not leave the confines of the area they are born in.

What this means is that, typically, for hummingbirds that are found in the United States, migration is standard. Most species that pass through the country will migrate toward Central America as the temperatures begin to drop, while a handful of species will only migrate as far south as Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana.

Which Hummingbirds Don’t Migrate?

As is established, there are only a few hummingbird species that do not follow the typical cross-country or international migration patterns that North American hummingbirds typically do. These hummingbirds include Anna’s Hummingbird, Buff-Bellied Hummingbird, and Costa’s Hummingbird.

The Buff-Bellied Hummingbird lives year-round in the southernmost part of Texas, where temperatures usually remain in the desired range for the plants that hummingbirds feast on to be prevalent throughout the year. Similarly, Costa’s Hummingbird is found in the southernmost parts of New Mexico and California. Both of these species are commonly found in Mexico as well.

Anna’s Hummingbird is a unique example of a hummingbird with a migration routine unlike most others. This hummingbird, found only around the Pacific northwest area of the country, does not migrate southward the way that hummingbirds traditionally do. Instead, they choose to migrate by altitude, moving to more mountainous areas to follow the plants they eat. It is not known why this species migrates this way, unlike all other hummingbirds that can be found in the country.

Which Hummingbirds Do Migrate?

Almost all hummingbirds that can be seen in the United States, aside from the ones mentioned above, migrate. Some of these hummingbirds keep their migration patterns within the borders of the country, migrating from as far as Alaska southward to Texas and Louisiana. Other hummingbirds simply pass through the United States, often choosing to migrate closer to the equator.

Some of these hummingbirds choose to live in more arid, desert-like regions. These hummingbirds are commonly found in the southwestern portion of the country. When they migrate, they often do not go far, only moving a fraction of the distance that other hummingbirds do. When these hummingbirds migrate, they are often following specific plant species that they like to feed from.

Other hummingbirds prefer a more forested, woodland environment. These are generally the hummingbirds that make the most dramatic migrations. These are the hummingbirds that can be found in just about all areas of the country, from the eastern border to Alaska. They are also the hummingbirds that are the most inclined to migrate to the tropics when winter comes, as the vivid flowers they appreciate can be found here.

Where Do Hummingbirds Migrate to?

Generally speaking, the hummingbirds that are found in the United States will migrate toward more equatorial locations. These locations range from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, and most Central American countries to being closer to home in the southernmost states and territories, including Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Florida.

The exact destinations of each hummingbird species are a little bit more specific. Some hummingbird species will follow the availability of their favorite food sources. Other hummingbirds are migrating to where there is the least competition. The specifics generally depend on which species of hummingbird you want to know more about.

When Do Hummingbirds Begin Migration?

As you find yourself wondering when do hummingbirds migrate south, it is important to remember that every single species of hummingbird is different in this regard. There are some hummingbird species that will begin migrations as late as November, while there are other hummingbirds that begin their southward journeys in the middle of June.

As a rule of thumb, the further that a hummingbird has to fly for its migration, the earlier it begins the process. Another common rule is that the earlier that a hummingbird arrives at its northern destination, the earlier it will begin making the journey south. For example, hummingbirds that arrive in February are generally going to be the ones who leave in summer, rather than autumn.

When all is said and done, most hummingbird species will be migrating south starting in autumn. Some hummingbirds will migrate toward the beginning of autumn, even into the latest end of summer. Other hummingbirds will begin migration as the winter is on the horizon. The exact times that hummingbirds migrate depend heavily on species.

How Can You Make Your Yard Inviting for Migrating Hummingbirds?

If you want to support the record-setting, arduous journey that most hummingbirds go through as they make their cross-country trips, there are a few different things that you can do. If there are certain hummingbird species that you know will be passing through, you can research their migration periods and make sure that you leave your hummingbird feeder up during these times.

The general recommendation for leaving out hummingbird feeders is to keep them up and full of food for two weeks after the last sight of a hummingbird. This ensures that any hummingbirds that were late to the major migration period will still have fuel for their journeys, as they need to eat nearly constantly.

You can also make sure that you provide places for the hummingbirds to rest. While a migrating hummingbird isn’t going to be inclined to use a nesting box, they will appreciate comfortable perches to rest themselves on if they need a break during the night. Finally, you can make sure that you provide food for the hummingbirds as soon as you start spotting them again in the spring.

The Takeaway

While most people think of Canadian geese and Arctic terns as the main migratory birds that you will see in your time, hummingbirds are a prominent migratory species in the United States. While the exact times will vary heavily between species and locations, hummingbirds generally start their southbound migration during autumn, with a few outliers in late summer and early winter.

Almost all species of hummingbird that can be found in the United States migrate in some capacity, aside from three specific species. Aside from these hummingbirds, if you see one passing by your home in autumn, it may be worth leaving the feeder out so that it has a chance to fuel itself.

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