What Happens to Hummingbirds During the Winter? 5 Survival Insights You Need to Know

The frenzied activity at backyard feeders each summer makes it appear hummingbirds are permanent residents. Yet come winter, they mysteriously disappear from many yards. Understanding “What Happens to Hummingbirds During the Winter?” helps us appreciate the remarkable seasonal transformations of these flying jewels.

Migration is the Primary Strategy

The main reason hummingbirds vanish from much of North America during winter is migration. Here’s an overview of their migration process:

  • Most species migrate south to warmer climates with adequate flowers and insects.
  • Their small size allows flying long distances rapidly with tailwinds boosting speed.
  • Many species cross into Central America or Mexico, with some going as far as South America.
  • Altitude impacts migration timing, with higher-elevation hummers leaving earlier.
  • Age and sex impact timing too, with adult males departing before young birds and females.
  • Southbound migration typically occurs between August and November depending on latitude.

Thanks to their flying skills, migration allows most hummingbirds to escape harsh winters. But some exceptions stay put.

Overwintering in Cold Climates

Not all hummingbirds migrate. A few species tough out freezing temperatures if food is available:

  • Anna’s and rufous hummingbirds overwinter along the Pacific Coast where feeders are prevalent.
  • Calliope hummingbirds overwinter in Mexico highlands.
  • Ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds may overwinter in Deep South gardens.
  • Buff-bellied hummingbirds only migrate short distances within the southern US.

With sufficient feeders and flower plants, even cold-hardy hummingbirds can survive farther north all winter.

How Do They Survive Cold Weather?

Hummingbirds have adaptations to endure freezing nights and winter extremes:

  • Torpor – They reduce their metabolism and body temperature to near freezing each night to conserve energy.
  • Cold resistance – Their small size, fat layers, and fast metabolism all aid cold tolerance.
  • Wind barriers – Cavities, trees, and shrubs provide shelter from icy winds.
  • Sugary fuel – Feeders offer vital carbohydrates their fast metabolism requires.
  • Migration assistance – For weaker birds, helping them bulk up pre-migration boosts winter survival odds.

While they prefer warmth, hummingbirds are built to handle short-term cold with energy reserves and rest.

Do Hummingbirds Stay in the US?

What Happens to Hummingbirds During the Winter?

Very few hummingbird species remain year-round in the US. These are the most common overwintering species:

SpeciesOverwintering Range
Anna’s HummingbirdPacific Coast, Southwest US
Rufous HummingbirdPacific Northwest Coast
Allen’s HummingbirdCalifornia Coast
Calliope HummingbirdMexico Highlands
Broad-tailed HummingbirdMexico, occasional Southwest US

The small handful of species that remain rely heavily on feeders in winter. Most species migrate out entirely.

Dangers of Overwintering

Attempting to overwinter in cold climates poses serious challenges and dangers:

  • Fat depletion – Hummingbirds can starve in as little as 3 hours without adequate energy reserves. Missing just one nightly torpor session is often fatal.
  • Extreme cold – Temperatures below -20°F with wind can overwhelm their cold tolerance and cause frostbite.
  • Ice storms – Encased ice prevents flight and access to food. Long icing periods often prove deadly.
  • PredationTorpor leaves hummingbirds vulnerable to attack. legendary alertness is diminished.
  • Disease – Weakened immune systems and close feeder contact promote dangerous diseases.

The odds favor migration for most hummingbirds. But supplemented winter habitat can aid adaptable species to survive.

Best Winter Habitat Supports

Here are ways to make your yard overwintering-friendly if hummers linger:

  • Maintain multiple clean, unfrozen nectar feeders 24/7. This is their sole food source.
  • Hang feeders in sheltered spots like porches out of wind and ice.
  • Ensure nearby tree cover so birds can rest out of the elements. Evergreen trees work best.
  • Provide water trickles to prevent deadly dehydration. Change water twice daily if it freezes.
  • Limit pesticide use that can accumulate in the birds and food chain.
  • Place feeders within a few feet of windows so birds can see indoor perches.
  • Keep feeders away from outdoor cats who pose a deadly predatory threat.

When natural food vanishes, human-provided micro-habitats become critical to get through the toughest months.

Signs Hummers Are Overwintering

Watch for these clues hummingbirds may be attempting to overwinter in your area:

  • Consistent sightings into November of hardy species like Anna’s, rufous, or black-chinned
  • Recurring territorial behavior and frequent feeder use into late fall
  • Single birds exhibiting site loyalty for extensive periods
  • Reports from neighbors of late hummingbird sightings
  • Discovery of nighttime communal roosting spots
  • Lethargic or inactive behavior on very cold mornings

Take note of late hummers and provide ample fuel and shelter to support their overwintering success.

Where Do Hummingbirds Nest in Winter?

What Happens to Hummingbirds During the Winter?

Most hummingbirds do not nest during the winter months. The vast majority migrate south to warmer climates in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America where they can continue finding flower nectar to eat. Popular wintering grounds include southern Mexico, Panama, and Colombia.

Some species like Anna’s and rufous hummingbirds that remain farther north in milder climates along the Pacific Coast may still breed and nest in winter if adequate food supplies allow. But most hummingbird mating activities occur during spring and summer in temperate zones.

Why Do Hummingbirds Migrate?

Most hummingbirds migrate south in winter because the cold temperatures and lack of flower nectar in northern climates would be fatal. They have extremely high metabolisms and need to eat frequently. Migrating allows them to survive in warm tropical areas where they can continue feeding on flower nectar year-round. Some key reasons hummingbirds migrate include:

  • Lack of food from flower sources
  • Risk of freezing overnight when temperatures drop
  • Energy reserves inadequate for hibernation during long winters

So most northern hummingbirds embark on long migrations of over 2,500 miles relying on fueling stops along the journey to make their way to Central American wintering grounds.

How Can I Help My Hummingbirds in the Winter?

For hummingbirds still present through early winter at more southern latitudes, provide these types of support:

Keep feeders clean – Scrub nectar feeders thoroughly before refilling to prevent dangerous mold growth when sugar solution sits for longer periods in cold weather.

Don’t let your feeder freeze – Bring feeders indoors overnight if below freezing temperatures occur to ensure nectar does not turn to ice. A frozen feeder provides no nutrition.

Make nectar the right way – Closely follow nectar recipe guidelines with only 1 part white refined sugar to 4 parts water for proper dilution and energy content. Do not add red dye or honey. Replace solution every few days in winter to ensure freshness.

Make your feeder visible – Hummingbirds conserve energy in cold conditions by entering torpor. Place feeders in sunny spots protected from wind to help revive their metabolism and make obtaining nutrition easier.

Should You Leave Hummingbird Feeders Out in Winter?

What Happens to Hummingbirds During the Winter?

Most experts recommend leaving clean feeders up through early winter in areas with year-round hummingbird populations or along migration corridors. This provides supplemental fuel reserves allowing stragglers passage farther south. Take down feeders once hard freezes set in by late fall/early winter to signal an end point and prevent birds from lingering beyond sustainable conditions. Only leave feeders up through winter in subtropical climates supporting adequate winter-blooming flowers.

When to Put Your Feeder Away

Most experts recommend leaving hummingbird feeders up through late autumn as long as local hummers remain active. By early October, most migratory species will have departed for tropical wintering zones. Once overnight freezing hits an area, any remaining birds still relying on feeders should have migrated. Taking down and cleaning feeders at that stage ensures no birds get drawn back by food and get trapped by a sudden cold snap.

Follow these tips to help your hummingbirds survive:

  • Keep feeders clean/fresh until migration ends
  • Plant late-blooming fall flowers for migrating fuel
  • Report injured or off-season hummers to rehab centers

Conclusion: What Happens to Hummingbirds During the Winter?

While most vanish from wintery backyards, hummingbirds have evolved ingenious methods to persevere through seasonal scarcity. Spectacular long-distance migrations allow evasion of the harshest conditions. For tenacious species that overwinter, adaptations like torpor and fat insulation coupled with sufficient human provisions are keys to survival. Their disappearance is not permanent, as we joyfully discover when migrants reappear each spring, renewed. Our caretaking during the winter months helps ensure depleted food and deadly cold do not take an excessive toll. With some planning, we can welcome hummingbirds back again when the trees re-bloom and the days lengthen. The resourcefulness that sustains these tiny travelers through the year is a continued source of fascination and inspiration.


Where do hummingbirds go in winter?

Most migrate south to warmer climates in Mexico, Central America, and South America. However, some species overwinter along the Pacific Coast or Deep South where feeders and flowers allow survival.

How do hummingbirds survive cold winters?

Strategies like nightly torpor, fat insulation, wind barriers, and ample feeders allow a few species to endure freezing temperatures in northern climes. Most migrate to avoid harsh conditions.

What hummingbirds stay in the US for winter?

Anna’s, rufous, Allen’s, calliope, broad-tailed, black-chinned, buff-bellied, and ruby-throated hummingbirds occasionally overwinter in sheltered southern regions if feeders are available.

Should I take down hummingbird feeders in winter?

Leave feeders up through winter in case overwintering birds remain. Monitor for consistent activity indicating your yard is supporting year-round hummers.

How can I make my yard winter-friendly for hummingbirds?

Provide sheltered feeders that don’t freeze, nearby trees for roosting, clean unfrozen water, elimination of pesticides, and monitoring for lingering birds.

What are signs hummingbirds are overwintering?

Territorial behavior in late fall, lethargy on cold days, site loyalty of individuals, reports of late sightings in your area, and discovery of nighttime communal roosts all indicate overwintering.

Do hummingbirds migrate every year?

Yes, migration is an annual pattern. Inadequate food in most regions makes winter survival impossible without migrating south or human support such as feeders.

How far south do ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate?

While a few may overwinter in the south, most ruby-throats migrate through Mexico into Central America for winter, travelling over 1,000 miles from their breeding grounds.

About the Author: Hudaibia

My name is Hudaibia with the profound passion for our feathered friends. Birds have captivated my heart and mind since childhood. Now I share my avian devotion through my website, mybirdfeed.com.