The fall hummingbird migration south from parts of Canada and the United States begins as temperatures start to cool. When it begins depends on the location and how far they have to travel. Find out what to expect as these tiny birds make the long, solo flights to their winter homes.
Want to follow the journey north? See the spring hummingbird migration map here.
Hummingbird Fall Migration
When do hummingbirds start making their journey south for the winter?
It depends entirely on their summer location and how far they have to go. With the change of the seasons, their primary food sources—bugs for protein and flower nectar for carbs—become scarce and that signals it’s time to head to warmer regions.
Hummingbirds are found in the Americas all the way to Alaska, through parts of Canada and the United States, to the southern tip of South America, and the Caribbean as well.
Some hummingbirds in warmer climates never migrate for mating season. Others make the journey north to spend the summer in various parts of the United States and Canada.
Unlike the spring migration where you start noticing hummingbirds arriving in the garden, their departure in fall takes observations over time. One day you think, I haven’t seen a hummingbird in several days or more—and at some point you realize they must have moved on.
- Annual Migrations
- Feeding Hummingbirds in Fall
- The Great Journey South
One interesting fact most people don’t know is that while we think of birds migrating in flocks, hummingbirds actually travel solo. Yes, they are migrating on the same schedule—because conditions are right—but they do not travel in groups. If you think about it, it is quite a feat for such tiny birds!
The spring hummingbird migration map here is handy for knowing arrival dates each year.
If you live on a migration route in the United States, the further south you are, the earlier they arrive in spring. For many, this is some time between February and April.
Where we live in Ontario, Canada, the first spring arrivals appear in late April and early May. Some will be just passing through. Others will stay and raise their young.
After spending the summer mating season in northern areas, with winter looming, late summer and fall is the time for hummingbirds to make the long journey south once again.
Even hummingbirds just a few months old, born in the north during the summer months, will make this long solo journey south. So how do these youngsters even know their way? No one knows! Science has much to learn about these wonderful birds.
When they go will depend on where you live and how far they have to go. This may be during August, September, October, or November, depending on location.
Unless we see hummingbirds every day in the garden, we may not notice they have left until many days or weeks of absence.
It’s always bittersweet to say farewell but their return in the new year is a most welcome sign of spring.
For researchers, it is not easy to track these birds—especially during the fall migration—but, from what we know, they do not necessarily take the same route south in fall that brought them north in spring—and that’s why there is no tracking map. It’s an entirely different journey.
Feeding Hummingbirds in Fall
While some hummingbirds in the Western United States do not migrate, most of our ruby-throated hummingbirds will make the long trek south every fall—starting around Labor Day in early September—all the way to Mexico and Central America, where food will be much more abundant over the winter.
For us in southwestern Ontario, the last ones pass by in mid-October, just ahead of first frosts. For those in United States, sightings will continue until winter temperatures set in.
Providing sugar water for hummingbirds in fall will not delay migration. In fact, it can help provide additional energy for their long journey south to their winter habitat.
For years it was believed that providing nectar (sugar water) feeders (or birdseed for other migrating birds) may be harmful in autumn, enticing the birds to stay on until it’s too late to head south.
Today, it’s thought that providing this supplemental food source simply helps them fuel up for their journey and will not delay them.
The main staple of a hummingbird’s diet is protein-rich invertebrates.
The main staple of a hummingbird’s diet is protein-rich invertebrates likes insects, spiders, and various larvae along with nectar from natural sources.
As days become shorter and those natural resources wane, hummingbirds instinctively know it’s time to go.
Best Hummingbird Feeder
There’s no perfect feeder but this is the best I have found. It’s easy to clean and gives the birds a perch while they’re feeding.
If you find ants are invading your feeder, an ant moat will stop them.
As they head south, some migrating hummingbirds will be happy with conditions in Texas, Florida and the Gulf Coast and stop there for the winter. But most go farther south.
Empress of Dirt
FREE TIP SHEET
Hummingbird Food Recipe & Care Tips
To save the file, please provide your email address for this purpose only.
We do not spam.
The Great Journey South
The 6,000 km Journey South
It’s quite a journey for the Rufous hummingbirds that start from Alaska—travelling around 4,000 miles or 6,000 kilometers over the course of a few weeks.
It’s not quite as far for the Ruby-throated hummingbirds that we have in the east—and into Western Canada as well.
But it can still be a couple thousand miles for them. Plus they have the Gulf of Mexico to contend with.
Even the shortest path over the Gulf is about 600 miles with no place to rest.
We actually don’t know for sure whether they fly over or around the Gulf, but, either way, it’s an incredible journey.
Young Hummingbirds Know the Way—All on Their Own
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are capable of storing enough fuel—mostly from nectar—to fly that far under the right weather conditions, but conditions in the early fall are often not right.
What’s amazing is that hummingbirds born just a couple of months earlier—and who have never been to Central America—will make the journey on their own. We have much to learn about how they find their way.
Also, despite the folklore, no they do not hitch rides on geese, which was apparently a popular belief many years ago. It’s a fun idea, but no such luck.
So, your wee friends from the feeders over the summer will probably be arriving in Mexico and Central America over the next couple of weeks and enjoying the nectar and insects there, along with warmer temperatures.
Be ready in spring with your feeders filled as some of the very same hummingbirds will indeed return to their favorite summer nesting spots once again.
Over-winter and year-round hummingbird sightings:
Recommended Hummingbird Feeder
Hummingbird Feeder | Amazon
I like this style of feeder for a few reasons. First, it provides a perch for the birds as they feed. This is important so they don’t waste energy. Also, it’s easy to clean, which helps prevent disease.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛