Migration Strategies​ of the Hummingbird

From 2008 to 2013 researchers using data from eBird patched together hummingbird sightings from thousands of sighting checklists to track the central location of hummingbird migration over North America. Their study included 5 hummingbird species that migrated up to 2,500 miles: the Calliope Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broadtailed Hummingbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Rufous Hummingbird.

Their research revealed that hummingbirds shifted between different stopover sites each year, as far as 320 miles (Calliope Hummingbird).  One year they travelled through Tucson, Arizona, another year through Albuquerque,  New Mexico.  This year to year variation implies that there is leeway in the hummingbird’s decision-making regarding what routes to take during migration. The hummingbirds could be selecting their stopover sites based upon the availability of high-quality food, such as flowers with nectar, to fuel their rapid-pace metabolism. With this versatility, hummingbirds can adapt as the rising temperatures alter the blooming times and location of flowering plants.  This type of adaptability may give the hummingbirds the ability to alter their timing and migration route to match changes in the location of flowering plants, in response to global warming.

With the uncertainty associated with climate change, including the timing of flowering plants, hummingbird feeders will become an increasingly important source of nourishment for migrating hummingbirds of all species.  Feeders serve as a supplement to the hummingbird’s natural food source, so put your hummingbird feeders up early and keep them up until late in the migration season. With 10% of all hummingbird species worldwide threatened by extinction, this study gives hope on the long-term survival of these “jewels of the sky”.

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