Get Ready for the Great Hummingbird Migration

These ruby-throated hummingbirds are busy fueling and dueling as they prepare to make the long flight to Central America. (photo by Bob Farley)

August has been a busy month for the hummingbird feeders and flowers in my yard. Hummingbirds are on the move. Buzzing by, taking a quick energy drink of nectar wherever they can find it, grabbing and eating insects in mid-air and picking from spiderwebs, the little birds are putting on body fat now to be able to fly the hundreds of miles to Mexico and Central America where they will spend the winter.

August through October is the time for fall hummingbird migration, and so it is good to continue to use the sugar water feeders and watch for hummingbirds as they make frequent stops on their long journey back to the tropics for winter. You can’t make them behave; you will have dueling hummingbirds competing for food and territory as they move through. Watch this video to see the fighting that goes on in my yard.

I have several sugar water feeders. Remember the tequila bottle hummingbird feeder? DIY nectar is easy to make with one part sugar to four parts water. No food coloring, please. Maintain feeders by refilling and cleaning often. (photo by Bob Farley)

Even though there are more than 300 species of hummingbirds in the world, only fifteen species are common in North America. I live in Alabama, so I am most likely to see the ruby-throated hummingbird since its summer breeding and migration range covers the eastern half of the continent. In the spring, ruby-throated hummingbirds fly the non-stop 500 miles across the gulf or travel over land up through the eastern states and up through woodlands of the Appalachian Mountains, through the midwestern prairies to the Canadian woodlands and prairies to spend the summer in their breeding grounds. The spring migration prompts us to put our feeders out, to help the birds by providing an easy-to-find food source. People have enjoyed this relationship with hummingbirds for many years, and hummingbirds benefit from the feeders as the timing of spring flowers is not always so predictable.

Make Your Yard Hummingbird Friendly

Making your yard a hummingbird-friendly habitat is easy. Plant bright-colored and tubular-shaped flowering plants, put out sugar water feeders throughout the garden, and don’t be so quick to prune small low-hanging limbs so that breeding females may build nests. Click here to watch a female ruby throat build a nest out of spider silk and lichen in my yard. Build habitat and observe. You can go a few steps further and collect data and report your findings to online citizen science projects like National Audubon: Hummingbirds at Home, Journey North: Hummingbird, or Operation Ruby Throat: The Hummingbird Project.

As hummingbirds move through during the next month or so, chances are, you can catch a hummingbird festival in your area. To celebrate the hummingbird migration and to learn more about these pretty little birds, I am going with friends to the Strawberry Plains Hummingbird Festival at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, Mississippi. I can’t wait to hang out with friends, buy art and native plants for my garden, listen to speakers on a variety of topics (not just about hummingbirds), and of course, to see hummingbirds up close and personal. I am looking forward to seeing Doug Tallamy, entomologist and author of Bringing Nature Home, and The Living Landscape (co-authored by Rick Darke).

I’m also looking forward to seeing Butterflies of Alabama: Glimpses into Their Lives authors, Paulette Haywood Ogard and Sara Bright, as well as interpretive gardens specialist, Kristin Lamberson. They will all talk about how important it is to use your own yard as a nature preserve. “Plant it and they will come,” I know they will say. If we all plant a good variety of native plants in our yard, provide supplemental food sources as well, then wildlife will be attracted to the productive and constant food sources, and our own lives will be enriched as we support wildlife.

This scarlet rose mallow is sure to attract hummingbirds. By planting this red beauty in your yard, not only would you be providing a source of nectar, but you also provide small stems for perching. (photo by Bob Farley)

Here are a few of my favorite native plants for attracting hummingbirds:

Spring: scarlet buckeye, columbine, crossvine, bee balm, wild bergamot, standing cypress, phlox, penstemon

Summer: coral honeysuckle, red salvia, trumpet creeper, jewelweed, scarlet rose mallow, threadleaf hyssop, coral bean

Summer/Fall: salvia, cardinal flower, turk’s cap

And you can see more in this photo gallery from HGTV Gardens.

If you leave small low limbs instead of pruning up the trees that border your property, you may be lucky enough to see a mama hummingbird build a nest. This ruby throat used sticky spider silk to hold the tiny nest together and lichen to camouflage. (photo by Bob Farley)

 Are you watching the great hummingbird migration in your neck of the woods? Tell us your stories in the comments below!

7 Responses

  1. margie sanders says:

    I love my hummers,when do i quit feeding them, so they will leave for the cold wheather comes in Al. We had 12 or 14 all the time.I know if i keep feeding them they may not leave & they would freeze here,& I want them back next year.

    • Annette G. says:

      Margie, keeping your feeders up does not keep them from leaving. The length of daylight tells them when to leave. There is a hormone that is triggered when the days get shorter that tells them it is time to migrate. So by all means, leave them feeders up for late migrators!

  2. Audrey says:

    Hummiies are wonderful to watch. I love it when they come down to the window to play with my cats, do ya believe it?
    This year I was recently entertained by 7 hummies buzzing the feeder.

  3. larry reeves says:

    YES GOT QUESTION/AS GET HUMMINGBIRDS BUT THE BEES COME TO FEEDERS MORE/ IS THERE A ANSWER

  4. Linda Weeks says:

    Great article! I am loving the hummers that we see here in Maryland… one year around Easter time, I actually saw a ruby throat tell me from the other side of the window glass, that it was time to get those feeders back into their places! He was very P.O.ed at me that I was late that year!!

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About Michelle Reynolds 

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I’m a slipcover maker who refuses to fill the trash with the cutaway bits of designer fabrics, so I strive to make use of every scrap. I live with my ...

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