Where Do Hummingbirds Go in the Winter?
It’s the time of year when we start seeing fewer of our tiniest feathered friends. This may lead you to wonder, where do hummingbirds go in the winter? Here’s your guide to where they go each year and how they get there!
Where Do Hummingbirds Go in the Winter?
Most hummingbirds migrate to Central America and Mexico for the winter. This includes ruby-throated hummingbirds, the only hummingbird we have in the northeast. Ruby-throated hummingbirds usually live in Central America for the winter, but there are an increasing number staying in southern Florida, Louisiana, and Texas as temperatures warm.
Although most hummingbirds migrate southward, Anna’s hummingbirds, which are exclusive to the west coast, stay in the same area year-round. As you’d expect, other west coast hummingbird varieties often migrate to western Mexico and the southwest U.S. rather than make a cross-country trip into central America.
What Causes Migration
Instinct is the primary driver for hummingbirds to migrate – which is why even the young know to head south. Shorter days and lack of light are what seems to begin pushing them southward, though lessening food supplies of nectar and insects brought on by frost may also contribute.
Before leaving, and along their journey, hummingbirds stock up on food. They may gain over a quarter of their body weight before leaving so they can survive the journey. This is why it helps to leave your feeder out as long as possible. (Here are tips for when to take it down for winter.) Don’t worry about the hummingbirds staying too long if they have food at your house – instinct will still push them further south once they’ve rested and built up fat stores.
It’s twice as helpful to leave your feeder out if there’s a cold snap. Although the birds can often withstand cold by going into a state called torpor, they can’t survive without lots of food.
The Fall Migration Journey
Hummingbirds throughout the northeast and Canada start heading south in late summer and into fall. Depending on available daylight and food in their area, this is often September through October.
The males often go first, followed by females, and then the young. You’ll gradually notice fewer hummingbirds as fall progresses, and eventually you’ll see none at all.
Hummingbirds typically travel solo, flying low along the way to better find food. They often stop to rest and refuel during the afternoons as they make their journey.
When they reach the south, some hug the side of Mexico, taking a long route around the gulf, to avoid the chance of hurricanes in fall. Others take the risk of not being able to stop for rest and cross the Gulf of Mexico in a day! They often take the same route every year.
The full trip can take anywhere from a week to a month, as they take various routes south. The final destination is sometimes determined by how far they’ve already flown, with Canadian ruby-throats occasionally stopping in the deep south, and others in the north and middle part of the U.S. continuing their journey down to Mexico and Central America. (Find out what hummingbirds eat in the winter.)
Come spring, the hummingbirds have fierce competition for resources in southern areas, so they return north for better feeding and breeding opportunities, which is when we get to see and enjoy them again!
FAQs About Hummingbirds and Winter Migration
Do hummingbirds come back to the same place every year?
Yes! Hummingbirds have great memories and can return to the same area year after year, often nearly on the same day each year. They remember nesting areas and feeders, so don’t be surprised if you see a repeat customer!
Should you leave hummingbird feeders out in winter?
No, there is no reason to leave hummingbird feeders out during winter, as the birds have completely left the northeast. However, if you are visiting a warm area in the southern U.S., it may be worth putting one out to see who visits your feeder!
Where do North American hummingbirds winter?
Most North American hummingbirds winter in Mexico and Central America. Some stay in the deep south of the eastern and western U.S.
What is the winter destination of Ruby-throated hummingbirds?
Ruby-throated hummingbirds most commonly live in Central America during the winter, although some can be found in Mexico and southern states like Louisiana, Texas, and Florida.
How far do hummingbirds travel for winter?
The average hummingbird may travel around 1,200 miles between summer and winter destinations. However, this can vary widely, with one documented case of a Rufous traveling over 3,500 miles.
How do hummingbirds survive winter?
Hummingbirds survive winter by remaining in areas where they have regular and abundant access to food, mostly insects and nectar. This usually means migrating far south.
Do hummingbirds hibernate during winter?
No. Hummingbirds can go into torpor to conserve energy during a cold snap, but it often is just for the night. They do not hibernate at any point.
Where Hummingbirds Go in Winter
So, where do hummingbirds go in the winter? You should now know that they travel far south, typically into Mexico and Central America. And don’t worry, they’ll have plenty of food while they’re there. They’ll return in spring as always, looking for your feeder!