Tracking Hummingbird Migration

by Kyle Carlsen | Assistant Editor, Bird Watcher's Digest
The first ruby-throats typically reach the Gulf Coast in late February or early March, often making a nonstop 18- to 20-hour flight across the Gulf of Mexico. This photo captures the first migrant to arrive at a reader's hummingbird feeder.
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The return of the first ruby-throated hummingbird is one of the most highly anticipated spring events in eastern North America. Although a few of these winged gems spend the winter months in parts of the southern United States, the vast majority winter in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Each year the hummingbirds travel remarkable distances between their wintering grounds and their summer breeding areas, which span from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada.

The first ruby-throats typically reach the Gulf Coast in late February or early March, often making a nonstop 18- to 20-hour flight across the Gulf of Mexico. The birds move northward from there, relying heavily on the emergence of spring flowers as they make their way up through the United States. By early May, most of the Canada-bound hummingbirds have reached their destination, and most of the eastern two-thirds of North America is populated by ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Keeping track of the northward progression of these birds can help create an interesting picture of migration patterns. Lanny Chambers of St. Louis, Missouri, has been doing exactly that since 1997. By collecting thousands of reports each year from volunteer observers across North America, Chambers has constructed nearly real-time maps of when and where hummingbirds are showing up across the continent. Visit hummingbirds.net/map.html to view the maps, and consider contributing your own observations to this project.

About Kyle Carlsen

Kyle is the assistant editor of Bird Watcher's Digest. When not writing about birds, he divides his time between backpacking, traveling, and composing piano music. He's also a self-described coffee addict.

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  • This is our first winter & spring in Fauquier Co. VA. For those familiar with the area, we live just upstream from Lake Brittle. We live on a large lot with woods all around. Not only have the robins been here all winter; but, they're HUGE and they're present in numbers, sometimes filling a large dogwood tree (full of small red berries) next to the house. We won't be surprised if our first robins of the spring, and last robins of the winter, are LOTS of the same BIG robins that have been hanging out in the dogwood tree all winter. :)
    by Ray Koenig, Mar 19, 2015
  • I saw one of these in my backyard in Ackerman, Miss. I had never seen this bird and found your site to identify it. Thanks for your work and knowledge in this area.
    by Bill Taylor, Mar 05, 2015
  • This is a great idea! I had no idea birds would eat egg shells.
    by Pearl R. Meaker, Feb 22, 2015
  • Thank you for sharing our photo to your website!
    by Sandi Long, Feb 13, 2015
  • Good to know! Thanks!
    by Emily L. Johnsen, Feb 10, 2015
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