Q: Is it true that I have to take my hummingbird feeders down at the end of the summer or the birds won't migrate?
A: No. The instinct to migrate is so strong that nothing short of captivity can keep a healthy migratory bird from going south. The few hummingbirds that try to winter in colder regions are most likely unfit to migrate and would have died sooner had they not found feeders. By leaving a feeder up you may give a disadvantaged bird a second chance to make its way south.
In most parts of the country, you can take down your feeder a week after you last see a hummingbird. If you live along the Gulf or Pacific coasts or in the desert Southwest, you may have hummingbirds visiting your yard all year long.
Q: Do hummingbirds really migrate on the backs of geese?
A: No. It's hard to understand how such a myth got started in the first place and why it persists. Not only do waterfowl hunters not find dead hummingbirds in the feathers of their quarry, but it's easy to observe hummingbirds migrating on their own. While hummingbirds would certainly benefit from such an arrangement, there's really no way it could work. Hummingbirds and geese don't migrate at the same time or to the same places; any hitchhiking hummingbird that didn't starve before its ride finally headed south would have a long journey from the goose's winter wetland home to its own safe haven in the tropics.
The real story is amazing enough. Tiny though they are, hummingbirds migrate totally under their own power, following internal calendars and maps and fueled by stored fat and whatever food they can find along the way.
Q: How far do hummingbirds migrate?
A: That varies from species to species and even population to population. Most tropical hummingbirds do very little traveling, since there are no cold temperatures and few food shortages to avoid. Further north the mild winter weather along the Pacific Coast and parts of the Mexican border offers a few species a suitable year-round home. But most hummingbirds found north of Mexico are highly migratory, spending the summer and winter in completely different areas. The champion migrant is the Rufous Hummingbird, some of which must travel a minimum of 2700 miles one way from the northern edge of their nesting range in Alaska to the northern edge of their wintering range in Mexico. This distance equals 49 million body lengths, one of the longest migrations in proportion to size of any creature.
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