There are four winter hummingbirds in the U.S. — Anna’s, Costa’s, Buff-bellied, and Broad-billed hummingbirds. These species prefer mild winters but can also withstand harsh conditions and are the main reason birders leave the hummingbird feeders around.
If you love hummingbirds, winter might not be your favorite season as you won’t see much of them around. Most hummingbirds migrate southward to avoid the cold weather and to find adequate food sources. But the ever-changing weather conditions might occasionally bless you with the presence of a hummingbird that has stuck around. Here’s how you can help during cold months.
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Can You See Hummingbirds in Winter?
It is not likely that you will see hummingbirds in the winter because most have migrated southward toward central America and north Mexico. But there are many reasons you might stumble upon hummingbirds, even in cold weather. The first one might be that they decided to arrive in the area before others claimed their territory. Younger birds might get trapped if the winter comes suddenly because they lack migrating experience. Additionally, older birds might get sick and face issues with migration, and ill birds might simply lack the strength to move.
Common Winter Hummingbirds Species
These species of hummingbirds are typically seen in some states throughout the winter season. It is advised that homeowners and birders place bird-feeders out during this time to help supplement the existing hummingbird food supply. Hummingbirds you can spot in winter include:
- Anna’s hummingbirds are western hummingbirds and common residents in Baja California and southern British Columbia. They often enjoy exotic flowering trees on West Coast.
- Costa’s hummingbird — year-round residents in the southwestern U.S. They can be seen around California, Arizona, and Western Mexico.
- Broad-billed hummingbirds could be found around southern and central Arizona in some winters.
- Buff-bellied hummingbirds are year-round locals in Texas.
Keep in mind that this list is not final. Experienced birders know that different weather might bring a rare vagrant species into some areas. This short list are of migrants that are seen sticking around during the winter months occasionally:
- Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most common hummingbirds in the U.S. during summer. Still, they can spend mild winters further north than usual and harsh ones in Mexico, Costa Rica, or Panama.
- Rufous hummingbirds of this kind will generally migrate and spend winters in Mexico.
What Do Hummingbirds Do in the Winter?
When the colder months arrive, the food sources become scarce. Naturally, you’ll want to keep the feeders out for as long as possible to help hummingbirds find something to eat during winter. Even though they stay in milder winters, some overwintering hummingbirds tend to fall into a state of torpor.
During torpor, they slow down their metabolism, drop their heart rate, and preserve energy. They might look frozen or dead, but try not to interfere. The hummingbirds will wake up once the weather gets warmer. Some hummingbirds will also change their diets and turn towards a higher protein intake to survive the winter.
On the other hand, many species migrate and spend winter months in warmer areas. Before they head over to the long path, they’ll eat more and gain weight, so they’ll be safe while traveling.
Why Do Hummingbirds Migrate?
Hummingbirds don’t migrate just because of climate change. They also look for other food sources and flowers. Some are also led by decreasing daylight hours, so they’ll move somewhere where days are longer.
Helping Hummingbirds During Winter
If you’re a summer birder, you might be surprised to see a hummingbird in your garden during winter. Luckily, there are many things you can do to help them manage. For starters, plant both late and early blooming flowers. This will ensure there’s enough natural nectar for the birds to enjoy. Plus, this will help them get enough energy to store.
Reduce or completely eliminate pesticides. Without pesticides, the bugs in your garden will become a healthy protein source for the hummingbirds. Provide shelter to the hummingbirds — leave a porch or a deck open so the birds can stay protected from wind and rain.
Finally, enrich your garden with some colorful elements. This will let the hummingbirds know a bird feeder is nearby. If you find an injured hummingbird, immediately notify the vet, a bird rescue organization, or a bird rehabilitation center with hummingbird experience. Try not to touch the bird as you might hurt it.
Check out how you can help the hummingbirds at Seattle Audubon Society. You can also learn more about bird banding and see how experts discover hummingbirds’ migratory paths.
Should You Leave Hummingbird Feeders Out in Winter?
It’s a common myth that leaving the feeders out hinders the hummingbird migration. Instead, the feeders help the remaining hummingbirds to survive. If there are juvenile, or old and ill hummingbirds in your area during the winter season – they will benefit greatly from the supplement of nectar.
This is why you’ll want to keep the feeders outside for the whole winter, especially if you’re located west of the Rocky Mountains or along the U.S./Mexico border. Clean them daily and replace the nectar with the fresh batch. Use the feeder warmers to prevent the water from freezing. Remember not to use red food dye, as it can be toxic to these birds.
How Do You Know When It Is Time to Take the Feeders Down?
You don’t have to take the feeders down during winter. If you’re among avid bird watchers, you know that keeping at least one feeder out can be a lifesaver for the hummingbirds. However, if you still want to stop offering food, you can do so when you stop seeing hummingbirds for two weeks in a row.
Where Do Hummingbirds Come From?
Hummingbirds are an avian flower-pollinating species, that evolved over time from another smaller bird species to feed on flowers as a form of symbiosis between the plant and animal. Hummingbirds are fascinating and beautiful birds, often associated with joy, prosperity, freedom, and luck. Unfortunately, not all continents and their residents get to enjoy the sight of this avian species. These birds are predominantly found in the americas.
There are 360 known species of hummingbirds, with a few new breeds being reported annually. On the other hand, two hummingbird species have gone extinct since the 19th century with many more on the vulnerable-population list. A total of 16 species visit the west coast of the US often, and most of them travel back down towards Mexico when the weather starts to get cold. The most common hummingbird across the U.S. is the Ruby-throated hummer.
Where Do Hummingbirds Go When Winter Comes?
Except for some year-round North American residents, most hummingbirds will migrate from North America to warmer regions around Central America and Southern Mexico. Still, some hummingbirds are seen around in the winter, whether as stragglers that are running late – or hummingbirds that decide to stick around. The hummingbirds that stay could be seen around Pacific Coast (Arizona, Oregon, Washington, and Texas) and the Gulf Coast (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana).
At the moment, three kinds of hummingbirds keep pushing through the cold weather in the U.S. They’re not staying around because you forgot to remove the feeder; they just don’t migrate. This is why you might notice Anna’s around during winter. Ensure they have enough fresh sugar water and some shelter to spend the winter in your yard, and they’ll buzz around for a long time.