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Hummingbird Migration

Hummingbirds "heads down" storing energy for the fall migration
Hummingbirds "heads down" storing energy for the fall migration

Hummingbirds spend the winter in Central America or Mexico, and migrate north to their breeding grounds in the southern U.S. as early as February, and to areas further north later in the spring. The first arrivals in spring are usually males.

The Migration Triggers

Although there are differing views in the birding community as to what triggers the start of migration, it is generally thought that hummingbirds sense changes in daylight duration, and changes in the abundance of flowers, nectar and insects. Instinct also plays a role in making the decision to migrate.

Making the Trip

During migration, a hummingbird's heart beats up to 1,260 times a minute, and its wings flap 15 to 80 times a second. To support this high energy level, a hummingbird will typically gain 25-40% of their body weight before they start migration in order to make the long trek over land, and water. They fly alone, often on the same path they have flown earlier in their life, and fly low, just above tree tops or water. Young hummingbirds must navigate without parental guidance.

It's time for the start of the 2014 hummingbird southward migration!
It's time for the start of the 2014 hummingbird southward migration! Photo by a friend in Baton Rouge, LA

Hummingbirds fly by day when nectar sources such as flowers are more abundant.

Flying low allows the birds to see, and stop at, food supplies along the way. They are also experts are using tail winds to help reach their destination faster and by consuming less energy and body fat. Research indicates a hummingbird can travel as much as 23 miles in one day.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Migration: Spring

The spring migration can be hard on the hummingbird population as they move north from their winter homes in southern Mexico and Central America.

Strong cold fronts moving south over the Gulf of Mexico make flying difficult as the birds deal with headwinds and heavy rain, over long distances with no shelter. Food is non-existent over the open waters.

Hummingbirds ARE Creatures of Habit!
First Ruby Throat Sightings in our Yard by Year

March 21, 2014
March 18, 2013
March 18, 2012
March 19, 2011
March 23, 2010
March 27, 2009
March 22, 2008

First arrivals in the spring, usually males, can be seen in Texas and Louisiana in late January to mid-March.

Map showing the average spring migration arrival dates for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in North America
Map showing the average spring migration arrival dates for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in North America

Our first hummers usually arrive here in East Texas in mid-March, when we see 1-2 at a time. In more northern states, first arrivals are not until April or May, as shown in the map above.

2014 Hummingbird Spring Migration Map
(Zoom map for more detail) ... Updated 04/07/2014


View Hummingbird Spring Migration 2014 in a larger map

January - February
March 1 - 15    March 16 - 31
April 1 - 15    April 16 - 30
May & Beyond

Stops along the way may be for a few minutes, or a few days at more favorable locations with abundant food supplies.

Click to submit your hummingbird sightingBy mid-June, the numbers increase to 6-8 seen at a time.

The Fall Hummingbird Migration

By August and September, hummingbirds are moving south, refueling their bodies in the early morning, traveling midday, and foraging again in the late afternoon to maintain their body weight.

August brings lots of activity, when we have 10-20 birds at a time, with peak numbers in early September when we typically spot as many as 25-40 hummingbirds at a time as part of the fall migration. Most are Ruby Throats, with an occasional Rufous in the mix at the feeders.

Ruby Throats gather in Florida, Louisiana and along the South Texas coast in September in preparation for the final push to the south, either over the Gulf of Mexico or via an overland route through Mexico.

Winter Hummingbird Residents in the U.S.

Hummingbirds are overwintering on the Gulf Coast in greater numbers than in the past, and many can be found at feeders in South Texas and South Louisiana during mild winters.

For example, in South Louisiana, several species are often spotted during the winter months, including the Ruby-Throated, Rufous, Black-Chinned, Buff-Bellied, Callipe, Allen's, Broad-Tailed, Anna's and Broad-Billed.



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