America’s long-distance hummingbirds

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Some arrive as early as February                                        

The Calliope Hummingbird (shown above) weighs only 0.1-ounce and yet flies from Central America to the U.S. and Canada every spring! Many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which don’t weigh much more, fly a path across the Gulf of Mexico — that’s non-stop for more than 500 miles — and make a return trip in the fall! Eight other hummingbirds also make long-distance round-trips every year.

Their journey is packed with danger. Weather hazards can be fierce: extreme heat or cold; drought can cause dehydration; heavy rains can force them to the ground; strong winds can blow them into obstacles. Predators, especially cats, but also larger birds, rodents, snakes, and even large dragonflies and spiders are known to kill hummingbirds when they can catch them. Windows kill, too, when they reflect trees and hummingbirds crash into them.

So, why do these tiny birds bother to migrate? Basically because they’re tropical birds that expanded their ranges in summer and discovered exploitable food resources and nesting spaces in the U.S. and Canada. But, in the fall, when their main food — insects — go into decline, the birds must move back south. There are some unique hummingbirds that have adapted to North American climates by becoming vegetarians in the winter!

Hummingbirds are noted for drinking nectar, giving the impression that nectar is their primary food, but as Hummingbirds.net puts it “…nectar is just the fuel to power their fly-catching activity…” Still, we can help these valiant little birds as they make their long, long journey by providing nectar, which gives them energy.

Hang feeders out a little ahead of when you expect the first arrivals. The sugar solution is easy to make: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar, and don’t use red dye, as it’s bad for them. Shake the solution periodically until all sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate any unused portion. That’s it! Keep the feeder fresh and replace the solution every few days. It’ll last longer in cool weather, but don’t let it become murky.

Depending on where you live, here are the migrating hummingbirds you should watch for and the periods of their arrival and departure. The time they arrive in your area depends on your location; for instance, in the cooler northern states, they arrive later in the spring and leave earlier in the fall.

Allen’s Hummingbird male. (Steve Berardi / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

Allen’s Hummingbird male. (Steve Berardi / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus sasin) — Strong resemblance to Rufous Hummingbird. Moves up- and downslope following seasonal food sources, between the central Pacific Coast of Mexico and the northern U.S. West Coast. Arrival: January to April. Departure: July and August. Weighs 0.1 ounce (about the weight of a dime); 3-1/2 inches long; wingspan 4-1/3 inches.
 
Black-chinned Hummingbird, male. (Alan D. Wilson NaturesPicsOnline; cc by-sa 3.0)

Black-chinned Hummingbird, male. (Alan D. Wilson NaturesPicsOnline; cc by-sa 3.0)

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri) — migrates between Mexico and the western U.S. and southern British Columbia. Spring: Mid-March through May. Fall: mid-August through September. A thin strip of iridescent purple borders the black chin of the male, but it’s only visible in just the right light. Weight: 0.1 – 0.2 ounce. Length: 3-1/2 inches. Wingspan: 4-1/3 inches.
 
Broad-tailed Hummingbird, male. (Kati Fleming / Wiki; cc by-sa 3.0)

Broad-tailed Hummingbird, male. (Kati Fleming / Wiki; cc by-sa 3.0)

BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus platycercus) — migrates between Central America and scattered areas of the western U.S., including the south-central Rockies. Possesses physical and behavioral adaptations for dealing with cold nights. Arrival: March and April. Departure: September through late-October. Weight: 0.1 ounce. Length: 3 to 3-1/2 ounces. Wingspan: 5 inches.
 
Calliope Hummingbird, male. (Rocky Raybell / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

Calliope Hummingbird, male. (Rocky Raybell / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD (Stellula calliope) — migrates between Central America and the western U.S. and Canada. The smallest bird in North America north of Mexico, it’s also the smallest long-distance migrating bird in the world. Arrival: March to late May. Departure: July and August. Weight: 0.1 ounce. Length: 3-1/2 inches. Wingspan 4-1/3 inches. 
 
Costa's Hummingbird, male. (Alan D Wilson, NaturesPicsOnline CC by-sa 2.5)

Costa’s Hummingbird, male. (Alan D Wilson, NaturesPicsOnline CC by-sa 2.5)

 COSTA’S HUMMINGBIRD (Calypte costae) — migrates between Mexico and Baja California, Mexico and the southwestern U.S. Arrival: January to March. Departure: may leave desert areas as soon as late May. On the hottest of days, moves from desert to chaparral, scrub or woodland habitat. Weight: 0.1 ounce. Length: 3.5 inches. Wingspan: 4.3 inches.
 
Lucifer Hummingbird, male. (Manuel Grosselet / EOL; cc by-nc 3.0)

Lucifer Hummingbird, male. (Manuel Grosselet / EOL; cc by-nc 3.0)

 LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD (Calothorax lucifer) — migrates between Central America and the extreme southern tip of Arizona and New Mexico. Arrival: early April. Departure: early October. Their curved bill and narrow, forked tail are distinctive. Weight: 0.1 ounce. Length: 3-1/2 inches. Wingspan: 4 inches.
 
Magnificent hummingbird, male. (Dominic Sherony / EOL; cc by-sa 3.0)

Magnificent hummingbird, male. (Dominic Sherony / EOL; cc by-sa 3.0)

 MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD (Eugenes fulgens) – migrates between Central America and the southern tip of Arizona and New Mexico. Arrival: late March. Departure: late October to early November. The second-largest hummingbird north of Mexico.  Weight: 0.2 – 0.3 ounce. Length: 4-1/3 – 5-1/2 inches. Wingspan: 7 inches.
 
Ruby-throated hummingbird, male. (Kaaren Perry / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

Ruby-throated hummingbird, male. (Kaaren Perry / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris) — migrates between Central America and the U.S., mostly east of the Mississippi River, and into Canada. Some migrate back and forth across the Gulf of Mexico. Arrival: March through May. Departure: late July to late October. The only breeding hummingbird in eastern North America. They can only shuffle along a perch, as their legs are too short to walk or hop. Weight: 0.1 – 0.2 ounce. Length: 2.8 – 3.5 inches. Wingspan: 3.1 – 4.3inches.
 
Rufous Hummingbird male. (B Garrett / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

Rufous Hummingbird male. (B Garrett / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus) — makes one of the longest migrations in the world, as measured by body size: Only 3 inches long, they travel 3,900 miles between Mexico and western North America and southern Alaska. Arrival: February to May. A very feisty visitor at feeders. Departure: June to August. Length: 2.8—3.5 inches. Wingspan: 4.3 inches.
 

*Top photo: Calliope Hummingbird. (Kati Fleming / Wiki; cc by-sa 3.0)

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