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Bird Myths: Hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese

The imagery is undeniably cute and inspiring. Hummingbirds resting on the backs of large geese as they soar high through the sky en route to warmer temperatures, one species helping out another. Even though this would be something I would love to see in real life, it’s simply not true.

Occasionally, I tackle some of the prominent myths about birds, such as feeders stop birds from migrating, a mother will reject its young if a person touches it and bread is a good snack for birds at the pond. After writing on amazing things about hummingbirds and it being that time of year, I thought I’d tackle this myth.

It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly when and how this myth started, but it may have to do with the fact that there’s little data about the migration of hummingbirds. John J. Audubon thought this as well. I guess it also seems pretty preposterous for a tiny bird to fly such long distances, but they do manage to do it themselves.

There are a few things that compete with this theory though. First, geese don’t fly south far enough to satisfy the warm temperatures hummingbirds love. Second, geese don’t stop at places where hummingbirds can eat, so the journey will leave hummingbirds without any food (not that they don’t make the journey themselves without much food). Third, there would be some visual evidence that it’s happened, but no one has ever seen this firsthand.

While it’s easy to explain a hummingbird’s migration with a simplistic tale like riding on geese, the truth is actually much more amazing and interesting. Each species of hummingbird has its own migration strategy and customs. There is some evidence that hummingbirds like Ruby-Throated hummingbirds follow a specific path each year and have been known to even arrive at certain hummingbird feeders on the same day every year. Some of them fly from the northern United States to Central America and even fly non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico in one swoop.

The reason you probably didn’t know much about their migration is that they don’t fly in flocks. Instead they migrate as individuals. So, while information on hummingbirds needs to be much more extensive than it is now, it’s clear they don’t hitch a ride on the backs of geese.

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.

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