Hummingbird Podcast Part 1 – Migration

Hummingbird Podcast Part 1 – Migration

Hello everyone and welcome to the Perky-Pet® podcast series. Today’s show is the first of three-part series on one of my
favorites: the hummingbird. Special thanks to Perky-Pet® for bringing the
series to you. To learn more about their vast collection of bird feeders and bird
feeding products, please visit their website at
I’m Susan Matson and on behalf of Perky-Pet®, I’d like to introduce Dr. Ross
Hawkins to the show. Ross is the founder and director of the Hummingbird Society
which was created to educate people about the hummingbirds and protect these
birds from extinction. During today’s conversation, Ross will share with us some
fascinating insights on the hummingbird migration. Ross welcome to the show.
Thank you, Susan. I love hummingbirds, and so much about these tiny, charismatic
birds is just amazing. But to me, the most amazing is their ability to migrate such
great distances. Now we think of them as fragile, but they really aren’t. Any bird
that can migrate 3,000 miles each way and come back the next year and repeat
this for four or five years is anything but fragile. I probably should say that
not all hummingbirds in the United States migrate, but about two-thirds of
them do. The longest migrating hummingbird is the Rufus; it can be found
as far north as Anchorage, Alaska and yet it migrates to southern Mexico, and
that’s a total distance of about 3,000 miles each way. That’s a long distance
for a little bird that’s only three inches long. Recently they banded a
bird in Tallahassee, Florida, and they recaptured it about five months later
near Anchorage, and that was 3,500 miles, and to my knowledge, that’s the longest
distance any hummingbird has ever been documented to migrate.
Interestingly, they don’t migrate the same path; when they go South, most of
them go down through the Rockies because there’s lots of wildflowers in the late
summer, but in the spring when there are no wildflowers, they go up through California.
And as nearly as we can tell, we have evidence that they memorize the location
of every single food source on that 6,000 mile loop, which could be your
feeder in your backyard or it might be your flowers in the front yard. People in
the eastern United States are very familiar with the Ruby-throated and its
long distance migration; it starts from points as far north as
Nova Scotia and can be found in the winter as far south as Panama, although
we don’t have documentation of it/one particular bird that did that. And as
if that isn’t enough, but when the hummingbird gets down to the Gulf of
Mexico, it fattens up and then flies nonstop from the Gulf Coast all the way
over to the Yucatan Peninsula. Now there’s no place to stop on a trip like
that, except maybe a shrimp boat or an oil drilling platform, and we have had
some stories of that. Just imagine a little tiny bird flying for 20 hours, a
distance of 600 miles, across the Gulf of Mexico, knowing full well that he’d
better not run into a headwind or a storm, and yet they’ve done this for
thousands of years. People have asked me how can they possibly migrate such great
distances and I tell them it’s because they’re smart; they add extra fuel before
they leave. We all know that they eat nectar, but what a lot of people may not
know is that these hummingbirds before migrating convert this nectar into fat.
Now, I tell people that’s why I look the way – I do I’m getting ready for a long
trip – but for the hummingbird, it’s essential. Well, they don’t believe me, but
for the hummingbirds that pick up as much as 30 percent of their body weight
as fat reserves. That’s a lot like the wingtip fuel tanks on an airplane that
increases the range and gives it a cushion against unexpected results. You
know Susan, one of the most common myths about hummingbird migration is that if
we don’t take down our feeders, the hummingbirds won’t migrate. The myth of
that is that the hummingbird migrates when the number of daylight hours
shrinks to a number that triggers a chemical reaction in its brain and says, “hey it’s time to get moving,” and that means no matter
how many flowers in your yard, no matter how many feeders you’re keeping maintained,
when the hummingbird’s inner signal tells him, “it’s time to leave,” nothing that you
do in the way of keeping your feeders up will detract him from it. And in fact, you
know, it’s kind of crazy because if you take your feeder down, you’d have to
convince all your neighbors to take theirs down. you’d have to convince the
local Botanical Garden to cut down all their hummingbird flowers because you
wouldn’t want them to hold the bird back. So no, we don’t have to worry about our
feeders keeping them for migrating. And my experience, these birds migrate a
distance till they find a good food source,
stop, replace their fat reserves by spending several days at the garden or
feeders, and repeat that. Now I mentioned that the hummingbirds often add 30 percent to
their fat reserves. The Ruby-throated is different from that because he adds 100 percent to his body weight, and that’s what it takes to get the bird
across the Gulf of Mexico – a 100 percent increase in body weight. You can see why
I think migration is just one of the most fascinating aspects about
hummingbirds. It surely is. So when the birds come
back year after year, and they really need these refueling moments, and it
sounds like they count on them obviously and they pay attention to where they can
refuel, is there anything, any type of feeder or any place that you would think
to say or you know, this is a good one to have or a good place to put it?
Well Susan, there’s so many to choose from. The Perky-Pet® 8-ounce Pinch Waist Glass
feeder is a good example of this. I should say that you’ll have more success with
three small feeders than one large feeder because this reduces the ability
of an aggressive bird to keep the others from feeding. We like to hang several of
the little beginner feeders in open trees or shrubs, tucked away in a little
bit, where females in particular can slip in, feed, and go back to their nest and
babies without being detected. Wonderful, and I thought we had a
conversation earlier about some of the hummingbirds maybe
not migrating as much or at all, is there anything- Well there is, there’s new
information gained in the last, oh I’d say 10 or 15 years, that an increasing
number of birds are not migrating to the places they used to. The Rufus for
example, usually spends its summer, its sorry its winters, in Southern Mexico
but more and more than have been detected in the Southeast United States
from Louisiana all the way over to Florida. And by banding these birds, we
find that the same birds are returning every year. If though they’ve decided
that the climate is mild enough in the South, that there’s no need to go
further, and not only is the Rufus doing that, but as many as 9 or 10 other
species are doing it. The Ruby-throated doesn’t seem to want to spend the winter
there and by tradition, it migrates all the way across into Central America, but
these other species are amazing and that they’re being found in places that are
not the normal breeding grounds. I know one day, an individual found eight
hummingbird species in Louisiana in a single day. Another individual told me
he’s found a total of 10 species in Alabama in a single winter. You don’t
have to leave – you don’t have to leave the country in some instances, you just
have to travel with them. That’s right, yep; if you just know where they’re going,
that’s all you have to do, and that’s sort of nice isn’t it? To think that you
could spend your winter down on the coast of Georgia say and see
hummingbirds there that you’ve never seen before.
Absolutely, it gives all new meaning to the word “snowbirds.” Doesn’t it though?
Thank you so much Ross for such an enlightening conversation. Hummingbirds
you know, they really are amazing especially when it comes to that
migration you know? For more information folks about hummingbirds or to learn
about Perky-Pet® and the products that you heard today, please visit And to learn more about Dr. Ross Hawkin’s work and the Hummingbird Society, please visit their website at Thanks for listening and watch for an announcement
of our next conversation with Ross in which we’ll discuss the hummingbirds
eating habit.

3 thoughts on “Hummingbird Podcast Part 1 – Migration

  1. I had A rufous until the middle of October 2016 in MGM Alabama . I took a pic of her the last day she was on the feeder. Sad when they leave.

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