Hummingbirds migrate from Wisconsin; here is what it means

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Imagine this: you are sitting outside with a slice of watermelon in the shade of nearby trees. Suddenly, a buzz in your ear alerts you to one of Wisconsin’s smallest visitors: the hummingbird.

As late August approaches, hummingbirds migrate to warmer weather after summering in the Midwest. Wisconsin residents have long been fascinated by the little bird, and many place feeders in their yards in hopes of brief sightings.

“They’re very common around homes and backyards because of all the hummingbird feeders that are turned off and all the flowering plants that are in people’s yards,” said David Drake, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Extension Wildlife Specialist. “They’re just super cool birds.”

As hummingbirds begin to head south, here are some answers about their migration.

When do hummingbirds migrate?

Hummingbirds start leaving at a steady rate in late August and are completely gone by October 1. There were sightings in November, but those are rare, Drake said.

Male birds will begin arriving in the state in March or April, and females will follow soon after.

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Where are they going?

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only species that nest in the state. In the fall, they fly to Mexico or Central America.

Drake said the birds fly during the day in tailwinds and travel about 20 to 25 miles a day. Some even cross the Gulf of Mexico – an uninterrupted flight of 500 miles. He said birds that fly long distances without interruption will often “fall off”.

“They’re coming across the water and they’re just exhausted and they’re literally falling out of the sky,” Drake said. “Then they recover their energy, refuel, take their wings under them for a few days, and they will continue their journey.”

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What are they eating?

Before migrating south, Drake said the smaller birds carried 25 to 40 percent extra weight in preparation for the trip.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds can be seen frequently in backyards, feeding on nectar and occasionally small insects. Drake said they would also drink sugar water at feeders and were drawn to the color red.

“I have a cardinal flower in my garden and different types of black-eyed Susans,” Drake said. “They feed on whatever is blooming right now.”

Lydia Morrell can be reached at 320-444-2339 or lmorrell@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @lydia_morrell.

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