Home & Garden: Migratory practices of hummingbirds | PostIndependent.com

Home & Garden: Migratory practices of hummingbirds

Larry Collins
Free Press Home & Garden Columnist
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Well, unfortunately the hummingbirds are about gone. I haven’t seen one in at least a week, but I was talking to someone from Cedaredge who said she saw two of them a couple days ago. The question is: Where do they go? Let’s look at the migration paths for the three most popular species we get in this area — the broad-tailed hummingbird, the black-chinned hummingbird, and the Rufous hummingbird.

The breeding range of the broad-tailed hummingbird extends discontinuously from eastern Guatemala north through Mexico north in the western United States through east-central California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, west Texas, to Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, southwestern Montana, and northern Wyoming. The broad-tail is also a common breeder in the eastern and central parts of the Great Basin. It spends the winter in mid-elevation portions of west-central Mexico. Casual to accidental occurrence in winter has also been reported in southern California and in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I would expect some of them would return to Guatemala for the winter.

The black-chinned hummingbird is a common hummingbird in Colorado and Utah, occurring statewide at low and mid-elevations. It is found across the western United States, often in dry habitats, during warm months, and it migrates south to Mexico for winter. The information I have does not say how far south in Mexico they go.

The Rufous hummingbird exhibits two behaviors that separate it from other hummingbirds: 1) It ventures farther north during its migration than any others, reaching the southeastern coast of Alaska; and 2) it makes the longest known migration of any bird species (measured in body lengths).

The Rufous hummingbird spends its breeding season in coniferous forests and meadows of the northwestern United States, southwestern Alberta, British Columbia, and southeastern Alaska. It winters in southern California, Baja California, southwestern Arizona, and southward from central Mexico to Oaxaca, and eastward along the Gulf Coast into the Florida Panhandle. In addition, individuals may spend the winter in about a half dozen very localized areas in the gulf states and Florida. It appears that this hummingbird follows the same migration route each year; birds migrate northwards from the wintering grounds along the Pacific coast in the spring and then return inland, either along the side of the Great Basin Desert, or along the Rocky Mountain Cordillera. Migrants must stop to refuel during their long trip, and it is during the fall migration that individuals are often spotted throughout Colorado and Utah.

An interesting fact is that hummingbirds don’t migrate as a flock, but each bird journeys individually. In order to get to Guatemala and Oaxaca, some fly non-stop (obviously) over the Gulf of Mexico. How in the world do they do that? That gives us a whole new outlook and respect for the world’s smallest bird.

Information for this article was taken from the Utah Division of Wildlife.

Local bird expert and GJ Free Press columnist Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard bird-feeding experience possible. Email your bird-feeding and birding questions to lcollins1@bresnan.net.

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