Hummingbird Migration South
A hummer must double its weight first
It is late summer and early fall, preparing for the migration South is the main focus
for most hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds are busy gorging themselves in preparation for the long trip.
Here in Michigan, Ruby-throated hummers are the only breeding species we get.
They are the only breeding hummer to nest East of the Mississippi River.
Each hummingbird species has its own migration strategy, and it's incorrect to think of "hummingbirds" as a single type of animal, all alike.
By the first of September, I once again increase the sugar water content in my feeders (Southwest Michigan).
Locations further north may want to start earlier.
I go from 4 parts water to 1 part sugar to 3 parts water and 1 part sugar. A content that is actually closer to nature's offerings.
You may want to do this as well, it actually is closer to nature's sugar content.
Lower sugar levels in feeders (4 parts to 1) will have your hummers feeding more often, but this time of year you want to fatten them up.
There is no record of harming hummers with increased sugar water.
Many flowers have content like Monarda have a content of 40 and even 50% nectar.
Studies that have been done are on captive birds and captive animals that never get the exercise they need and require.
Can you imagine feeding on your favorite foods all day, everyday without exercise?
Nature knows best and our feeders are simply there to help, period!
Insects are truly the main source of food and quite often hummers grab a protein snack while they are licking flower nectar.
No matter the species, or where they are coming from, migration takes a lot of energy and the
higher solution is actually close to what nature offers and the extra boost helps them gain the needed weight.
Hummers must double their weight before heading out and higher solutions can only help.
It's also a plus if an early frost or cold snap
kills off the nectar producing flowers.
Yes, keep fresh feeders out for birds migrating South.
In fact, if the feeders or flowers are gone in the fall when they pass through, they have no reason to
stop by next time around and wont.
They aren't holding a grudge, it is energy efficient not to stop where there
is no food source.
Yes feeding hummers does have some long term responsibilities, but the rewards go without saying and I know you are up to the task.
Southern areas may want to add a few more feeders to help the transients migrating south as they funnel in.
Hummingbirds gorge themselves and often look quite pregnant (if that were possible).
Before the Migration South, hummers must double their body weight before they take off.
Can you imagine how difficult it would be for you to move if you doubled your weight and how much you need need to eat?
Most other species of birds couldn't get off the ground if they doubled their weight.
This shows the muscle strength hummingbirds have.
Instead of being able to mail 10 hummers with one postage stamp, (U.S.)you can only mail 5 of them now.
Yes, they double from one tenth of an ounce to two tenths of an ounce.
Don't worry, our feeders aren't keeping your hummers from heading out.
Migration South is dictated by length of day and few other factors.
Cool weather may call for an early exit by a day or two and warmer days may bless you with an extended visit, but you can be sure they will leave.
Daylight hours dictate it to be so.
Yes, the time clock ticks and says when it is time to go.
Immature hummers are the last to leave, (still new to everything).
Sickly ones may stick around your feeders, but they are in trouble already.
Hummingbirds do not flock, they take off on their own and arrive on their own.
They do not hitch rides on geese or other birds as the old wives tale mentions.
When migrating South, geese and hummers fly at different times, different heights and to different locations.
Again, this kind of migration is one of those stories that adds some pizazz.
Keep your feeders out a good two or three weeks after you've seen your last bird.
Sometimes there is a late passer migrating (usually a juvenile) and your feeder may be a life saver and you may not be there to see it.
There is no migration race against the clock this time. Migrating South is at a leisurely pace.
Hummers and other birds make sure the trip South offers plenty of food and rest time.
The trip North is totally hormone related and often causes problems and death when cold weather keeps food supplies down.
Barring a natural disaster, like hurricanes or an early killing frost,
nectar producing flowers are plentiful, tiny insects are everywhere and we offer our feeders to assist
the hummers migration.
During and after a disaster, your feeders will be a lifeline for hummingbirds in migration.
Hummers will often stay at a given spot for more than a week to rest and fuel up.
With few natural predators, the average life span of a hummingbird is 3 to 5 years. Though records have shown up to 10 years.
It is a fact, more hummingbirds die of starvation during migration
than any other cause of death.
Loss of habitat (flowers and insects) are a major issue.
Your feeders and gardens help build up reserves that enable hummers to fly longer distances and feed less.
This is where a higher dose of nectar comes into play.
Without these reserves, a hummingbird would need to stop and eat every 15 minutes or starve to death.
They remember your feeders from previous trips north and migrating south so keep them clean and filled.
Ruby-throats can migrate more than 2,000 miles one way and indeed, some make the non stop trip of 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.
Some Rufous hummers have an even longer migration trail from Canada and Alaska, up to 5,000 miles, as they follow the Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico.
Some end up in Florida or other coastal regions of the south and east.
Can you imagine how many wing beats that must be?
Like most hummingbirds from The United States and Canada, they find themselves funneling into Texas While many of the Western Hummers funnel into West Texas and Arizona.
Picture a V or a funnel.
This is what you have with hummingbirds as they move into these locations to gorge.
You may want to add more feeders this time of year to assist the birds as there is less and less provided by nature due to man's destruction and development.
Hummers don't migrate in massive flocks like many birds, but they will congregate before they begin to cross the border for winter.
Most hummingbirds don't like each other very much,(especially Ruby-throats) but they will tolerate one another when there isn't a territory or food source to protect.
This allows for more multiple hummer sightings at a single feeder.
There are accounts and records from citizens that report hundreds of hummers and several different species at one time.
If you live in Texas or plan on visiting, look into the hummingbird roundups that take place every fall.
Parts of Louisiana hold hummingbird festivals and people will open up their yards to strangers. Just for the joy of sharing this phenomena.
There are some regions of the United States temperate enough to provide flowers and insects
Heading South is an option, not a requirement in these locations
Along the Pacific Coast, Anna's hummingbird will spend the winter.
In southwestern states, along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, more hummers are calling these regions home
during the winter.
A prime example is this.............
Once called vagrants, more and more Rufous hummers are heading east for winter.
Several Ruby-throats are staying closer to home.
Heading South may be Florida, not Mexico.
It isn't known for sure if it is the warmer winters or the increasing loss of habitat in
Mexico and Central America.
Either or, treasure the treasures.
Hummingbirds can also adapt to food shortages and colder temperatures for short periods of time.
By lowering their body temperatures and metabolic functions, they enter a Torpid state or Torpor in which they appear dead.
Body temperatures drop from a normal 105 degrees to around 65 degrees. Breathing and heart beats
are irregular and as low as 30 to 50 times a minute.
Unlike hummingbirds of the western mountains, where freezing nights are common even in summer, Ruby-throats aren't well adapted to cold temperatures. They have a tough time below the mid-20s (F), and don't enter torpor as regularly as their western cousins to conserve energy.
If you find what looks like a dead hummingbird hanging
upside down on your feeder in the morning, do NOT assume that it is dead.
Arousal from torpor requires 30 minutes or more until body temperatures and functions return to normal.
That is one serious snooze alarm.
To avoid the cold, and the scarcity of food when flowers stop blooming and insects stop flying, they go south.
Some adult males start migrating south as early as mid-July, but the peak of southward migration for this species is late August and early September.
By mid-September, essentially all of the Ruby-throated hummers are on the migration trail from farther north.
Hummingbirds truly are amazing creatures.
Armed with Nature's best "GPS", heading North or South is never an issue for hummingbirds.
September 24 is the average last day for me to see hummers, but there have been years when I have had them into the second week of October when the weather has remained warm and frost hasn't killed off nectar producing plants and insects.
By now they have doubled in weight and my increased nectar has helped some.
Are they non stop at my feeders?
No way, I have hummingbird gardens that keep them occupied.
Loads of nectar rich flowers and tiny insects.
But, It helps them to add the weight required to make the long flight.
Were these northern birds or my hummers that hung around to enjoy things a bit longer?
It's hard to say without tags and records.
Very few studies have been done on Hummingbird migration South, like there is for the trip North.
In part, the main attraction is the migration North. Add to that the irregular stops etc. and few researchers have the desire and money to track hummers heading South.
As more universities and individuals
do research and studies, we will continue to learn about this tiny wonder of the avian world.
Their marvelous adaptations enable them to live an extraordinary and extreme life able to return to the Exact same yard and feeder next spring.
By offering a high source of nectar, I am assured they will return next year.
Is it a wonder that we stop to watch and admire these magnificent jewels of the gardens?
Yes, we will miss our flying jewels when they begin migration, but think what we have to look forward to next spring.
Mating and Nesting
Feeding Hummingbirds and Tips
Container Gardens for Hummers
What's in a Brain
Migrating South is Only One Stage of a Hummers Life.
Misters Offer Water for Migrating Hummers
Create Your Own Web Site, I did With SBI
Migration South or other topics.
Be sure to sign up for your weekly "Gardening for Wildlife" newsletter today.