Q. Where do hummers spend the winter?
winter in Central America from Mexico to Panama. At the northern extreme,
a few rufous hummers winter in southern and coastal California and
along the Gulf coast from southeastern Texas to Florida. Most winter
Q. Do hummingbirds migrate by day or night?
A. By day,
except in one situation: when ruby-throated hummingbirds light out
over the Gulf of Mexico, they are over water when night falls and
must keep on going until the reach the other side.
Q. I love my Ruby-throated hummingbirds and I always worry about them during migration. Are there places where they can rest & refuel on their way over the ocean?
A: No. Flying nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico is an important part of the natural selection process that has made these little birds so tough, and not all of them pass this harshest of tests. Before leaving land, hummingbirds double their weight by gorging to add fat as an energy reserve; in good weather they can go 600 miles without stopping, and the crossing is only 500 miles. The ones that don't add enough fat won't make it, and their genes aren't passed on; that's how nature works. It's just a bit more dramatic with hummingbirds, because they're so small and we love them so much.
Q. When do hummers leave their wintering
time their return to the breeding grounds according to location. Birds
that live in the southern part of the US begin their return migration
as early as February. Birds that live further north in the East, or
in the inland mountains in the West, time their return to coincide
with the flowering of their food plants or sapsucker migration.
Q. How do hummers prepare for the journey north?
A. By putting
on a lot of fat! They may double their body weight.
What do hummingbirds eat?
A. Hummingbirds eat nectar
from flowers, sap running from sapsucker drill holes, tiny insects,
and sugar water.
Q. How much do hummingbirds eat?
are BIG eaters. No animal on earth has a faster metabolism-roughly
100 times that of an elephant. Hummingbirds burn food so fast they
often eat 1.5 to 3 times their body weight in food per day! In order
to gather enough nectar, hummingbirds must visit hundreds of flowers
every day. Just one day of cold temperatures or bad luck finding flowers
can mean death.
Q. What are a hummingbird's enemies?
such as crows, jays, roadrunners, cats, and mice all eat baby hummers.
Hummers have also been caught by dragonflies and praying mantises,
caught in spiders' webs, snatched by frogs and fish, and stuck on
thistles. Use binoculars to watch from a distance as much as possible
so you don't "tip off' any predators.
What happens if a hummer doesn't have enough food?
A. To conserve
energy, it can go into a sleep-like state known as "torpor."
During torpor, the tiny bird's body temperature can drop by 50 degrees,
the heart rate can slow from 500 beats per minute to fewer than 50,
and breathing may even stop for a period of time. A hummingbird uses
as much as 50 times for energy when awake than when torpid, but a
torpid hummer can't respond to emergencies.
How long does it take for them to return to an active state from torpor?
A. It can take as long as an hour.
What makes hummingbirds migrate?
A. Hummingbirds migrate in response to hormonal changes that are
triggered by changing length of daylight. Nothing people can do will
make them stay too long in fall, so it's not necessary to stop feeding
them to force them to go south.
Q. Do males or females return first to the breeding grounds?
Females follow a few days to a couple of weeks or so behind them.
What do hummingbirds eat when getting ready for their migration?
of nectar and insects.
How do scientists learn where the hummingbirds from one state/province
migrate for the winter?
study bird banding data in hopes of learning where hummers go. They
put thousands of numbered bands on hummer legs, but very few hummingbird
banders have ever found out what happens to birds they've banded.
It takes a long time to amass enough data for them to draw accurate
conclusions. Meanwhile, hummers may change some of their migration
patterns, making the research even more complicated.
Will keeping feeders up prevent hummingbirds from migrating on time?
A. No. The birds have an instinct to move with the maximum availability of natural food. The feeders do not entice them. If migrating birds could be easily enticed to stay for food, none of them would get anywhere because they would have the maximum food available right up until fall's first killing frost—when it would be too late for so many hummingbirds to be moving. Migration is an innate or instinctive behavior. Any hummingbirds that are stragglers are just not in condition to move when they should. They need your feeders in order to have the best chance at catching up. Keep your feeders up, clean and filled at least two weeks after you see your last hummingbird in order to help those stragglers.
Q. Do hummingbirds travel together when they
A. No, hummers
are solitary migrants. However, when many are on the move in a good
migratory pathway, you may see many in a day—just like human commuters
may be traveling mostly alone, but there can still be a LOT of cars
on a highway at rush hour! For example: Because so many of them are migrating during August/September, when there are a lot of days with rain and/or unfavorable winds, any day with good conditions means a lot of hummingbirds will be on the move.
Q. What might be some advantages for hummingbirds
to migrate alone?
hummer must stop fairly frequently to feed, and since only one can
feed at a flower at a time, it's easier for them if they don't have
to be waiting for one another. Also, they have no real advantages
to flocking--they're so tiny that the eddies of air current their
flight produces break up by the tiniest breeze, so others can't follow
in their wake, and they are so tiny that most predators ignore them,
so they get no added security from more eyes to spot predators.
How long does hummer migration take?
A. Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds only migrate as far as Panama.
To go from Vermont down to the Gulf coast of the United States would
take about 5 days, assuming the hummer did not spend more than one
day resting at any one place. To cross the Gulf of Mexico takes 18
hours if the weather is good, 24 hours if the weather is bad, so adds
another day. It would then take another couple of days to reach its
destination in Central America. So, with no big rest stops, it would
take a hummingbird about a week to reach its wintering grounds. In
reality, it takes about 2 weeks, since they do spend time at various
places feeding, resting, and waiting for good weather. Spring migration
can be faster if the weather if favorable, because hormones are making
the birds more restless so they can start the nesting cycle.
Q. When do the hummingbirds arrive on their breeding
as sapsucker holes or flowering plants are first opening.
Q. What do hummers do first when they return in the spring?
fattening up, males start chasing away other hummers and doing their
flight display, in order to attract a female to their territory. Females
fatten up and then start nesting.
Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese?
A. No, hummers are fully capable of traveling astounding distances
on their own wings; many experts support the idea that many ruby-throats
fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico at least once a year.
Q. What are some of the hazards that hummingbirds
face on their long migrations?
of food, windows, unexpected predators (hummers nesting in far northern
forests may never have seen a snake in a tree before they reach the
South, for example), getting caught in storms without shelter.
Q. How do we participate in the Journey
North Hummingbird Migration Study?
Report the FIRST hummingbird you see in the spring. Also, report "leaf-out" of your trees. For many
small bird species, the timing of spring migration may be related
to leaf-out. This is because when leaves emerge, so do lots of insects.
Insectivorous birds may fuel their migration by following the leaf-out,
and eating the millions of insects available at that time. With your
help, we'd like to explore how these spring events are inter-related.
Q. What is the range of the ruby-throated hummingbird?
breed over much of eastern North America.
Q. What is the ruby-throated hummingbird's habitat?
hummingbirds can be found in many habitats, from forest to streamside.
The one thing they always need is nectar or another very sweet liquid.
In early spring they find it at sapsucker drill holes--otherwise they
are virtually always found near flowering plants.
Q. What is the breeding range of the rufous
hummingbirds breed over much of western North America from the western
plains through Alaska.
Q. What is the rufous hummingbird's habitat?
hummingbirds are found in forested and brushy habitats.
What is the hummingbird's role in the ecosystem?
A. By flying
from flower to flower, the hummingbird pollinates the plants it feeds
on. Some plants can only reproduce because of hummingbird pollination.
Some insects are eaten by hummingbirds, which in turn have been eaten
by small predators, including large insects, some fish, and small