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10 Fun Facts About Hummingbird Migration

It’s fall migration time!

Those in the North are saying bye to the hummingbirds; those down South are saying hello as they pass through; those in the West are saying “whatever” to the hummingbirds hanging around all year.

(If you happen to be reading this during spring migration, replace North and South in the last paragraph.)

To mark this occasion, we decided to assemble 10 of the most interesting hummingbird migration facts we could find for you. Take a look.

1. Hummingbirds live solitary lives and migrate by themselves. We often think of birds migrating in flocks, particularly geese, but that’s not always the case. Hummingbirds can be very territorial, so it only makes sense they make the journey alone.

2. Anna’s Hummingbirds aren’t the migrating type. Well, some do head to more favorable climates, but many of these hummingbirds will stay in the same spot for the whole year, especially those in California.

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3. Hummingbirds likely begin migration due to environmental changes. Many have theorized that it’s the drop in available food that encourages migration (which is why some people claim it’s not good to leave your hummingbird feeders out during the fall), but scientists no longer believe that’s the case. Instead, hummingbirds likely migrate due to the changing level and angle of the sunlight.

4. During migration, hummingbirds eat more than their weight in nectar and insects each day. With a heart rate of 1,200 beats per minute and an average of 53 wing beats per second(!), hummers expend tons of energy on their journeys. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can eat one to three times their weight in nectar and insects a day. Imagine eating three times your weight each day!

5. The Rufous Hummingbird makes the longest journey of any hummingbird. Despite being a little over 3 inches, the Rufous Hummingbird travels about 3,900 miles one way. Here’s some sobering math from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “At just over 3 inches long, its roughly 3,900-mile movement (one-way) from Alaska to Mexico is equivalent to 78,470,000 body lengths. In comparison, the 13-inch-long Arctic Tern’s one-way flight of about 11,185 mi is only 51,430,000 body lengths. (AAB)”

6. It takes an average of two weeks for a hummer to complete its migratory journey. That’s a long time for such a small bird to be on the road, especially when the world is filled with dangerous and deadly obstacles.

Julie Kennedy
Julie Kennedy

7. Hummingbirds enter a state of torpor if it gets too cold on their journey. Hummers can be hard to spot, but if you’ve ever noticed one hanging upside down or alarmingly still in the cold, you might assume it’s dead. That’s not quite the case, though.

If a hummingbird gets trapped in a cold snap, it will shut down and enter a sleep-like state called torpor. Its body temperature and heart rate will drop significantly, and its breathing will become infrequent. Once the temperature warms up during the day, the hummer will come out of its temporary state and be on its way.

8. Hummingbirds do not migrate on the backs of geese. We’ve covered this a number of times on the blog, but the myth (despite how adorable it sounds) is simply false. Hummingbirds make the long journey with their own two wings.

9. Some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico. To make the several hundred mile journey over water, the hummingbirds will fly straight for about 18 hours. Some fishermen in the middle of the gulf have even reported seeing the small birds far from shore flying low over the water.

10. In preparation for the journey, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds double their weight. As stated earlier, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can eat up to three times their weight per day, so it’s probably not surprising that they double their weight. Of course, they don’t keep the pounds (or ounces) for very long.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

4 Comments

  1. What % make it across the gulf to warmer winter habitat?

  2. Excellent question…. however, I’m betting the answer is not known. There’s no way to band and track hummingbirds with today’s technology. The additional weight would have drastic affects on a Hummingbird’s flying ability. It’s the epitome of The Heisenberg Principle which states…. “what you study, you change”.

  3. Why do they fly low over the water. Wouldn’t they have a flight advantage by catching the jet stream? Or is it too cold up there even if theyre moving?

  4. I am still hopeful the product I ordered will show up. I have downloaded the USPS app that tracks by address.

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