Hummingbirds are some of the most spectacular birds to observe due to their diminutive size, iridescent plumage, and impressive flying skills. But these migratory birds are only present in certain areas during certain times of the year. If you want to catch sight of hummingbirds where you live, it’s helpful to know when they are most likely to show up. Here is a guide to understanding hummingbird migration and timing so you can attract and enjoy these flying jewels.
Spring Migration Period
For most of the United States and Canada, the arrival of hummingbirds coincides with the coming of spring. Here are some guidelines for when you can expect to see the first hummers in your area:
- Southern States – In the southernmost states like Florida, Texas, Arizona, hummingbird sightings may begin as early as January or February as birds start arriving from Mexico and Central America. Migration peaks in March and April.
- Gulf Coast – Along the Gulf of Mexico, look for the first arrivals in February and March, with peak populations in April and May.
- Midwest and Mid-Atlantic – From the Midwest states to the mid-Atlantic region, hummingbirds usually start appearing in April and peak in May.
- Northeast and Northwest -Expect hummingbirds in late April and May in the northeastern states and northwestern states like Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
- Canada – Hummingbirds return to Canada in May, though a few very early arrivals may show up in late April in southern Ontario and British Columbia.
So the general pattern is that hummingbirds arrive earlier in southern areas, then gradually spread northward as the season progresses. Timing can vary slightly year to year depending on weather patterns.
Fall Migration Period
Hummingbirds follow a similar geographic pattern in reverse for their fall migration back to wintering grounds:
- Northeast and Northwest – In the northeast and northwest, most hummingbirds depart by late August and early September.
- Midwest and Mid-Atlantic – Hummingbirds leave these regions by late August through mid-September.
- Gulf Coast – Along the Gulf Coast, the majority of hummingbirds exit by late September and October.
- Southern States – Some hummingbirds remain year-round in the warmest southern states like Florida. Others leave by late October through November.
- Canada – Nearly all hummingbirds will have left Canada by late August, with a few stragglers in early September.
So hummingbird numbers drop off first in northern areas in mid-summer, then disappear from southern regions by late fall. Again, precise timing shifts annually with weather patterns and food availability.
Prime Hummingbird Viewing Periods
Combining the spring and fall migration patterns shows the peak times to look for hummingbirds in your area:
|Region||Peak Hummingbird Viewing Period|
|Southern States||February – October|
|Gulf Coast||March – September|
|Midwest||April – September|
|Northeast||May – August|
|Northwest||May – August|
|Canada||May – August|
As this table shows, you’ll have the greatest chance to enjoy hummingbirds where you live by planting flowers and positioning feeders during these peak hummingbird months.
Factors That Influence Migration Timing
Hummingbird migration follows ancient seasonal rhythms, but various factors impact the exact timing each year:
- Temperature – Warming spring temperatures trigger northward movement from tropical winter homes. Cues of frost tell hummers to head south.
- Flowering schedules – Hummingbirds time migrations to coincide with blooming cycles of favorite nectar flowers.
- Insect availability – Abundant insects are needed to provide protein for hatchlings, so migration matches insect population booms.
- Geography – Landforms like mountain ranges and coastlines shape migration routes and timing as birds move along corridors.
- Climate change – Rising global temperatures may shift timing, distribution and migration paths as floral cycles and weather patterns change.
- Individual variation – Age, sex, genetic differences result in some birds migrating earlier or later each season.
These individual, environmental and geographical factors interact to influence local migration chronology. Timing can shift from year to year, which contributes to the excitement of watching spring arrivals.
Year-Round Hummingbird Species and Locations
While most North American hummingbirds migrate, some species remain year-round residents in the warmest regions:
- Anna’s Hummingbird – Pacific Coast and Southwest desert regions.
- Allen’s Hummingbird – California Coast.
- Rufous Hummingbird – Southwest deserts and Gulf Coast.
- Calliope Hummingbird – Mexico and Central America.
- Broad-tailed Hummingbird – Mexico and Central America.
- Buff-bellied Hummingbird – Texas and Mexico along the Gulf Coast.
So these hummingbird species can be observed throughout winter in their respective ranges if you live in or travel to those warm climates. Providing nectar feeders and flowers will help attract them to your location.
Part of the magic of hummingbirds is that their appearance each spring and summer brings a sense of renewal. Understanding their migration patterns helps you know when to watch for these aerial masters in your gardens and neighborhoods. Adjust your plantings and feeder setup to match their arrival and departure schedule where you live. Then relax and enjoy the show as hummingbirds zoom in to brighten your days with their dazzling colors and energetic antics.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hummingbird Migration
How far do hummingbirds migrate?
Most species migrate hundreds to thousands of miles between their breeding and wintering grounds. For example, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds travel from Canada to Mexico – a 1200 to 2800 mile round trip!
How high do hummingbirds fly during migration?
Research shows hummingbirds migrate at altitudes from 300 feet up to 10,000 feet. They choose altitudes that provide favorable winds to help carry them along.
How fast does a hummingbird fly during migration?
Hummingbirds can fly 25 to 30 mph during migration. With help from tailwinds, they may reach speeds of over 34 mph during transit.
What do hummingbirds eat during migration?
Hummingbirds get their nutrition from flower nectar, tree sap, and small insects during migration stopovers. They build up fat reserves before crossing major barriers.
How long does it take a hummingbird to complete migration?
Total migration may take 7 to 8 weeks in the spring, with periods of continuous flight and stopovers to rest and feed. The fall trip is usually faster at 4 to 6 weeks.
Do hummingbirds migrate over oceans?
Many hummingbirds undertake incredible non-stop 18 to 22 hour over-water crossings, including the 500-mile Gulf of Mexico. Some fly up to 620 miles non-stop over the Caribbean Sea.
Do hummingbirds migrate during the day or night?
Most hummingbirds migrate at night when air temperatures are cooler to reduce their energy use. Some may fly during the day over short distances between stopovers.
How do hummingbirds know when and where to migrate?
Instinct drives migration patterns. External cues such as changes in daylight, temperatures, and food availability signal when it’s time to travel.
Do hummingbirds return to the same sites each year when migrating?
Yes, research shows hummingbirds exhibit site fidelity, returning to the same breeding and wintering grounds using the same stopover spots year after year.
Where do hummingbirds go in winter?
Hummingbirds winter primarily in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America where they find warm temperatures and abundant food year-round. Some species reside in the southern United States through winter.