Hummingbird Migration Best in the Fall

Hummingbirds in Alpine, TX

Hummingbird banders are hopping this time of the year. The end of summer is the best time to experience hummingbirds. As the days get shorter and the sun sets lower, the world’s tiniest birds fatten up for the long journey ahead of them.

There are more birds migrating south than north each year, because of the number of hatchlings born in the spring, and it seems the older birds get to their southern destination faster than the young birds. One group of ornithologists determined the younger birds at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama outnumbered the older birds 28 to 1.

Instinctively every fall, when the days start getting shorter and the flowers in bloom and insect population start declining, hummingbirds migrate from the United States to Central America.

You might think that hummingbirds rely only on nectar bearing flowers, but they also rely on insects, which are a critical source of protein for hatchlings. The tiny birds have a relentless demand for food. Mother hummingbirds collect nectar, pollen, and tiny insects to feed her chicks an energy-rich slurry.

Hummingbird in Alpine, TX edited with Prisma filter

Hummingbird edited with Prisma

Because ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most abundant hummingbird in the states, they are also the most studied. Hummingbirds are too small for radio tracking tags, so scientists rely on capturing and banding the birds to tract their movement.

Studies show that hummingbirds have their own migration route and many return to the same feeders on the same day of the year each year.

The difference in timing of migration may be that not only are the younger birds unfamiliar with the migration route, but also because they need more time to fatten up on insects and nectar. Older birds are better foragers and more assertive.

You might have heard you should take your hummingbird feeders down in the fall to encourage the birds to migrate south, but that is a myth. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology encourages “people to keep their hummingbird feeders full for several weeks after they have seen the last hummer just in case there are stragglers in need of additional energy before they complete their long journey south.”

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Ready for the humingbirds

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