Ever wondered what makes Hummingbirds so popular amongst the birders? Is it their distinctive humming? Or their peculiar features? Or is it that they are keystone species? One cannot point out any particular thing that makes these birds so exclusive. Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures! Hummingbird migration is very interesting, the broadness of the species, their striking metabolism rate, and the fascinating list goes on.
As their names suggest, Hummingbirds make a high-frequency humming sound while flapping their wings. Interestingly, these birds have 360 species, and identifying a Hummingbird is easy.
All the hummingbirds are stubby, with a long bill and long wings; this feature remains common in all the species. Hummingbirds choose tropical zones for their habitat, and all the Hummingbird migration patterns revolve around that. Before going to check them out, what does migration mean? And why do birds migrate? Let us find out these reasons here!
What Does Migration Mean?
Migration is a seasonal movement that helps birds carry on feeding, breeding, and finding a suitable habitat with the optimum ecological conditions required by them to sustain themselves. Birds choose to migrate and go in search of locations when their existing habitat becomes unfavorable.
The increasing population of insects, budding plants, and copious nesting sites are an advantage. As the season changes and the temperatures drop, the cold is unbearable; with the reduction in the food resources adding onto the factors, birds migrate.
They move southwards, seeking favorable weather conditions, food resources, and a habitat that enables them to breed. Although some birds, like the hummingbirds, withstand cold, ample food resources are necessary.
One question that we may ponder when talking about migration is how do birds find their migration routes, or rather how do they navigate?
How birds navigate during their migration is astonishing as they go on their first migration by themselves. They find their seasonal migration homes even after not having traveled there before.
We can’t wholly study how they navigate their migration because they also have with enumerable senses. Birds seek their compass information from the sun, the Earth’s magnetic fields, and the stars. They note the landmarks they sight during the day to position themselves. They understand the direction of the setting sun. Some studies suggest that the sense of smell also plays a massive role in migration routes.
Types of Migrations
There are many types of migrations observed in birds, these migration patterns can be triggered for several reasons. Read on to understand the types of migration and the bird migration patterns!
The birds that find surplus food, water resources, and favorable weather conditions in all the seasons throughout the year are the birds that are permanent residents. These birds do not migrate, for example, Pigeons and Doves.
These birds only move from higher to lower altitudes in the mountainside. Short-distance migration is triggered because of weather changes. Red-winged Blackbirds and Chaffinch are short-distance migrants.
Medium-distance migrants usually travel from one state to another or several other states. The bird migration pattern of the medium-distance migrants is very erratic, it is not well-defined and can vary. Eastern Bluebird, Blue Jays, and Killdeer are medium-distance migrants.
The long-distance migrants move from breeding grounds to wintering grounds, United States and Canada to Central and South America. The bird that makes the longest migration is the Arctic Tern species.
The Arctic Tern migrates pole to pole, from Greenland to the Weddell Sea. This is the longest migration known in the entire animal kingdom. It covers a phenomenal distance of 90,000 km. The reason why some birds choose to be long-distance migrants is for breeding. Unfavorable weather or lack of food resources aren’t the only factors that trigger migrations.
One way to look at migration is the distance traveled by the bird. The bird that travels the longest distance is the bird that makes the longest migration. Migration also helps bring a balance to biodiversity.
Along their migration routes, the birds help in the dispersal of seeds, which helps nature thrive. This creates the origin of a food chain, and thereby, a balance is brought to biodiversity.
Feeding and Nesting
Hummingbirds are native to America. From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, they are everywhere. However, they inhabit the tropical regions the most. The smallest Hummingbird is called the Bee Hummingbird that is about 5 cm in size, while the biggest Hummingbird is called the Giant Hummingbird, which is about 23 cm in size.
Almost all Hummingbirds feed on nectar. They also feed on insects and spiders. Their long bill enables them to suck the nectar out of the flowers.
For nutrition, Hummingbirds are dependent on various insects such as fruit flies, mosquitos, and insects. They also drink nectar from flowers and only prefer high sugar content in nectar. They are primarily dependent on nectar for their energy requirements.
For feeding on insects, they use a method called hover-hawking, where they fly over insect swarms. Most of the time spent by Hummingbirds is on sitting and digesting. The remaining time, which is 10 to 15%, they spend feeding. Hummingbirds are always accustomed to large sources of food due to their high metabolism rate.
Breeding and Offspring
The males attract the females with soft songs. Their nests are a small cup shape that are enhanced with moss and lichen. They are secured on a thin branch of a tree or bush with cobwebs. Most of the Hummingbird species build their nests below a huge leaf, for example, a palm frond.
The total number of eggs that Hummingbirds lay is only about two, and they are as small as coffee beans. Only the female Hummingbirds are present during the entire nesting process. They make the nest by themselves, incubate the eggs, and feed their offsprings.
Hummingbirds have a striking metabolism rate. Amongst homeothermic animals, they have the highest metabolism rate. This is to store energy where there is a dearth of food resources, and they can also go into a torpor that is similar to hibernation. They can slow their metabolism to one-fifteenth of the original rate.
Hummingbirds are the smallest migrating birds. The Hummingbird migration distance that they cover alone is 500 miles. Hummingbird migration is solitary, they do not travel in flocks. They are the only birds who can fly backward.
They do not have a sense of smell, so vivid colors are the best way to attract them. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are enticed by red and orange colors. Hummingbirds do not use their legs to hop or walk; they use them to perch and walk sideways while perching.
The average lifespan of a Hummingbird is 3 to 5 years which is longer for an organism with a high metabolism rate. To attract the opposite sex and for the purpose of territorial competition, the male population of the Hummingbirds has vivid colors of feathers.
Hummingbirds inhabit places that are wooded, consisting of grasslands and meadows, with many varied colors of flowers. However, Hummingbirds have been found in cities with cooler temperatures, and they are quite acquainted with their environment.
Some of the most common Hummingbirds are Ruby-throated, Rufous, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird, Allen’s Hummingbird, and Costa’s Hummingbird. There is also the Calliope Hummingbird, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, and Rivoli’s Hummingbird.
Why do Hummingbirds Migrate?
The Hummingbird migration is as diversely observed as the species itself. The Hummingbird migration occurs due to the search for food such as nectars, insects in the winter, and another primary reason is breeding.
When the weather gets unfavorable, and the food resources are scarce, Hummingbirds decide to migrate. The Hummingbirds can withstand cold, but the availability of ample food resources is necessary, and that is why they migrate.
How do Hummingbirds Migrate?
The Hummingbird migration pattern is quite intriguing; they prefer to fly by day when detecting nectar sources is easy. Another Hummingbird migration pattern to note here is that they prefer to migrate during the spring, in February.
It is shocking to know that the petite Hummingbird migration distance is 4000 miles! The Hummingbirds of North America move to the south. This means they go to Mexico, Central America, or The Caribbean Islands in autumn and spend their winters in these regions. During the southern winters, the species in South America also move to the center. The residents that do not migrate at all inhabit Florida, California, and the desert regions of the USA.
Anna’s Hummingbird from Southern Arizona and the Buff-bellied Hummingbird of Florida migrate to the Gulf Coast to southern Texas. The bird migration flyway that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds use is the Atlantic Flyway. During the summers, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds travel back to Mexico, South America, Southern Texas, and Florida from the Atlantic and Canada.
Researches in the Hummingbird migration suggest that a Hummingbird travels as much as 23 miles per day. The males usually arrive first during the spring. To help them reach their destination faster, the Hummingbirds use tailwinds.
This method also helps them use less energy and fat. Essentially, the Hummingbirds gain 25 to 40% of the weight that helps them sustain the long Hummingbird migration. Since they are small birds with a high metabolism rate, they would require high energy for the long travel.
The Rufous Hummingbird breeds farther north, while all the other species are in other places in America. Rufous also makes up the most extensive Hummingbird migration seen in the species.
How to Attract Hummingbirds
During the migration, the Hummingbirds know of their food resources and the breeding ground primarily by colors. Listed below are some ways in which you can attract Hummingbirds:
● Red is the color for Hummingbirds. Incorporate red as much as possible in your backyard or bird-watching site. But, one thing to make sure when adding red elements is that these elements are safe for the Hummingbirds; they should not contain any type of dyes.
● Insect Feeders are essential parts to attract a Hummingbird as insects and nectar make up the diet of a Hummingbird.
● Grow plants with vivid colors and flowers with high sugar content.
● Feeders with bright colors. Hummingbirds are easily enticed by colors, as they do not have a sense of smell. Hence, brightly colored feeders would work well for the same.
● Homemade nectars also work fine; just one thing to make sure is that the nectar doesn’t comprise any artificial dye harmful to the Hummingbirds.
● As Hummingbirds inhabit meadows, woodlands, and places with a lot of flowers and trees for nesting, it is a great idea to make the birdwatching backyard similar to a garden.
It doesn’t take much to attract Hummingbirds, just a few elements according to their preference, and you would see the birds in the seasonal migration. These birds also tend to look for high-fat content, and nectar is their best source! Thereby, the feeders must always have a surplus of food. The plants in the backyard must be meticulously taken care of so that they can keep blooming flowers.
Hummingbirds are fascinating birds, and even more intriguing is the Hummingbird migration to study. This species is charming, to say the least. One of the most astonishing facts about the species is that they are the smallest birds that migrate. With their petite bodies and a very high metabolism rate, these species store many energy and fat during the Hummingbird migration.
Migration is necessary for birds to breed and help bring a balance in biodiversity. When the temperatures become extreme, and the food resources are limited, that’s when you see a species of birds migrate.
Some species of birds migrate as long as one pole to the other in search of breeding grounds, food resources, and nesting areas. This species is the Arctic Frond and they are the longest migrating organism in the entire animal kingdom. You can set goals to bird-watch for these Hummingbirds and record your results.