Where do hummingbirds go in the winter?

Hummingbirds are some of the most fascinating birds in the world. Their ability to hover mid-air and fly backwards sets them apart from other bird species. These tiny birds bring joy with their energetic personalities and beautiful colors. When winter approaches, many people wonder where these tiny birds go when the weather turns cold.

Quick Facts on Hummingbird Migration

Here are some quick facts on hummingbird migration and wintering grounds:

  • Most hummingbirds in the United States and Canada migrate south in the fall to warmer climates.
  • Their winter grounds are typically in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
  • Some hummingbird species, like Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds, spend winters on the Pacific Coast or the southeastern United States.
  • Migration allows hummingbirds to find food sources during the winter when flowering plants and insects are scarce farther north.
  • Hummingbirds fly hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach their winter destinations.
  • They follow established migratory routes along coastlines and mountain ranges.
  • Hummingbirds migrate alone and often return to the same wintering grounds each year.

What Triggers Hummingbird Migration?

Hummingbirds migrate in response to certain environmental cues that signal the approach of winter:

  • Changes in daylight: As days shorten in late summer, hummingbirds instinctively know to begin migrating.
  • Lack of food: The scarcity of flower nectar and insects in fall prompts migration to warmer areas with more abundant food sources.
  • Cold temperatures: Hummingbirds migrate to avoid freezing temperatures and find warm places to survive the winter.

Other factors like humidity, wind conditions, and weather events may further influence migration timing. By paying close attention to these signals, hummingbirds know when it’s time to travel south for the winter.

What is the Hummingbird Migration Route?

The specific migration routes followed by hummingbirds depends on the species and their breeding range, but there are some general flyways they follow:

  • Many western hummingbirds, like Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds, migrate along the Pacific Coast through California, Mexico, and Central America.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds east of the Mississippi fly across the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.
  • Hummingbirds in the Rocky Mountains and Midwest follow routes through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas into Mexico.

Here is a map of the major hummingbird migration routes in North America:

Hummingbird Migration Routes
Route Location
Pacific Flyway Along the Pacific Coast through California, Mexico, and Central America
Central Flyway Through the Rocky Mountains into Mexico and the Southwest U.S.
Mississippi Flyway Across the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America
Atlantic Flyway Along the Atlantic Coast to Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean

As they migrate, hummingbirds make frequent stops to rest and refuel at flowering plants along their route, traveling an average of 25-30 miles per day. They complete their spring migration north earlier and more quickly than their southern migration in the fall.

What States do Hummingbirds Migrate Through?

During migration, hummingbirds pass through many different U.S. states depending on their route. The main states they migrate through include:

  • Western states: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah
  • Southwestern states: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas
  • Midwestern states: Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska
  • Southeastern states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida

These states provide important stopover habitat for feeding and resting during migration. Backyard birders often spot migrant hummingbirds visiting their feeders or gardens in these states as they pass through. Some rarer western and southern species, like Rufous Hummingbirds, are only seen in certain states during migration seasons.

How Long Does Hummingbird Migration Take?

Hummingbirds make one of the longest migration journeys of any bird relative to their tiny body size. The duration of their migration depends on the exact route and species:

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may migrate over 1,000 miles from Canada and the Eastern U.S. to Central America in the fall. Their migration can take 7 to 13 days by crossing the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Rufous Hummingbirds breeding in Alaska fly over 3,000 miles to Mexico and the Southwest U.S. Their fall migration may last 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbirds that nest in Colorado travel around 1,600 miles to wintering grounds in Mexico. Their migration takes 4 to 6 weeks.

During migration, hummingbirds fly alone and make frequent stops to eat and rest. Cold fronts and storms may stall their migration or blow them off course. Males and younger birds start migrating up to two weeks before adult females.

How Do Hummingbirds Know When and Where to Migrate?

Hummingbirds rely on innate instincts and environmental cues to determine when to migrate and navigation on their journey:

  • They possess an internal clock and compass that guides their orientation and flight directions during migration.
  • Landscape features like coastlines, river drainages, and mountain ranges provide mental maps that direct hummingbirds on established routes.
  • They may orient themselves by the sun’s position and sense of polarized light patterns.
  • Hummingbirds likely use a combination of visual landmarks, geomagnetic senses, and olfactory cues to find their way.

Young hummingbirds make their first fall migration guided by genetics and experience without parental instruction. Remarkably, they can find the same winter sites and return to the same breeding grounds each year.

Where Do Hummingbirds Go in Winter in the U.S.?

Some hummingbird species spend the winter in warm climates within the southern United States instead of migrating farther south:

  • Anna’s Hummingbirds: Pacific Coast and Southwest U.S.
  • Rufous Hummingbirds: Gulf Coast states and Southwest
  • Allen’s Hummingbirds: California and Arizona
  • Calliope Hummingbirds: Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas

These hummingbirds seek out feeders and flowering plants through the winter in backyard gardens, parks, and nature preserves in warm regions of the southern U.S. Putting up feeders provides essential food sources for those that remain through winter.

Preferred Hummingbird Wintering Habitats

Some habitats hummingbirds prefer for their U.S. wintering grounds include:

  • Canyon oases with flowering plants and streams in the Southwest
  • Chaparral habitats in California and Arizona
  • Coastal oak woodlands in Texas and the Southeast
  • Desert washes in New Mexico and Arizona

Providing flowering plants, citrus trees, and feeders in backyards and gardens helps attract overwintering hummingbirds to these areas.

Where Do Most Hummingbirds Go in Winter?

Most hummingbird species that breed in the U.S. and Canada spend winter in southern Mexico and Central America. Here are some details on their top winter destinations:


Southern Mexico provides ideal wintering grounds for many hummingbirds that nest farther north. States such as Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Guerrero have tropical forests and scrublands bursting with flowers and insects.

Rufous, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, and Calliope Hummingbirds overwinter along Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Species like Ruby-throated and Rufous Hummingbirds inhabit forests and citrus groves along the Gulf Coast.


Hummingbirds frequent the mountains, tropical forests, and savannas of Guatemala during winter. Key areas include Sierra de las Minas and Sierra de Mico. Species like Violet Sabrewings gorge on nectar from Inga trees and spring-blooming plants.

Costa Rica

Lush rainforests and diverse flowering plants make Costa Rica a top hummingbird winter destination. Up to 50 species may overwinter, including flocks of feisty Rufous Hummingbirds. Popular spots include La Selva Biological Station and Braulio Carrillo National Park.


Panama’s tropical lowlands and cloud forests host numerous hummingbirds in winter, including Ruby-throated, Allen’s, and Rufous Hummingbirds. Canopy Towernear the Panama Canal offers excellent birdwatching opportunities.

What Do Hummingbirds Eat in Winter?

Hummingbirds get most of their winter nutrition from nectar and small insects and spiders:

  • Nectar: They drink nectar from a variety of flowering trees, shrubs, and plants. Favorite winter blooms include coral bean, poinsettia, turk’s cap, and thistle.
  • Insects: Small spiders and gnats provide essential protein. Hummingbirds hawk flying insects around forests and fields.
  • Sap: Insects and rain can cause tree sap to flow, providing another energy source.
  • Feeders: Sugar water feeders from people help supplement natural food sources.

Hummingbirds need to eat every 10-15 minutes to fuel their superfast metabolism. Availability of flowers and insects dictates their movements between winter habitats.

How Hummingbird Behavior Changes in Winter

Hummingbird behavior and habits change during the winter in the following ways:

  • They are less territorial and may congregate in groups at food sources.
  • Their courtship displays and aerial conflicts happen less often.
  • They enter a state like hibernation called torpor to conserve energy overnight.
  • They are less active and vocal and perch more often to save calories.
  • Their feathers become duller in color and may appear scruffy from wear.

Despite these changes, hummingbirds still maintain their captivating charm through the winter months!

Threats Faced During Migration and Winter

Hummingbirds encounter many threats during their strenuous migration journey and while wintering. Some key hazards include:

  • Lack of food from habitat loss, droughts, climate change
  • Exposure to severe weather events like storms, cold snaps, and wind
  • Collisions with buildings, towers, and other structures
  • Predation from birds of prey and other animals
  • Diseases like salmonella at crowded feeders

You can help protect hummingbirds on migration by providing native nectar plants, properly cleaning feeders, and reducing collisions through awareness programs like Lights Out campaigns.

Interesting Facts About Hummingbird Migration

Here are some fascinating facts about the incredible migration of hummingbirds:

  • The Rufous Hummingbird makes the longest migration of any hummingbird, traveling up to 5,000 miles roundtrip.
  • A Ruby-throated Hummingbird weighing less than a nickel can fly over the Gulf of Mexico, a 500 mile nonstop journey.
  • Hummingbirds double their weight before migrating and burn up to half their body weight on a single overnight flight.
  • They fly low across the Gulf, typically starting in the evening, using tailwinds to help carry them.
  • Some younger hummingbirds get blown too far across the Gulf and end up in Europe by accident in fall.
  • Migrating hummingbirds have been spotted far offshore, even landing on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to rest.

How to Help Hummingbirds Migrating Through Your Yard

Here are some great tips to help support hummingbirds as they pass through your yard during migration:

  1. Put out fresh nectar feeders to provide fuel for their journey.
  2. Include bright, tubular, native flowers that attract hummingbirds.
  3. Avoid pesticides that reduce insect populations hummingbirds rely on.
  4. Supply a water mister for drinking and bathing.
  5. Let shrubs and vines provide protected perching spots.
  6. Wait to clean feeders until migrants have moved through your area.
  7. Report hummingbird band sightings to researchers.

With a few simple actions, you can give amazing hummingbirds a needed pit stop and refuge during their incredible migrations!


Hummingbirds captivate us with their beauty and aerial skills. Their epic seasonal migrations span thousands of miles across North America. By travelling to find abundant nectar, these tiny birds survive harsh winters and return each spring to delight us anew. Learning about their migratory journeys gives us insight into hummingbird behavior and ecology while revealing nature’s wonders.

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