ASK THE HORT AGENT
Question Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese?
Answer Geese migrate. Hummingbirds migrate. Why wouldn’t a smart little hummingbird hitch a ride on the back of a lumbering honker? After all, zippy little hummingbirds generally weigh one tenth of an ounce. A goose wouldn’t even know a hummer was on board. In my mind, I can see a crafty little hummer sitting at the base of a goose’s neck like a small child riding a Clydesdale.
However, there are a few logistical problems. First, there are more hummers than geese. Therefore each goose would have to carry several hummers.
Second, geese start their migration later in the fall. Hummingbirds would turn into hummersicles waiting for a ride. Most hummingbirds have left the Carolinas by mid October. Harnett County averages it’s first frost during the third week in October. Ruby throated hummingbirds don’t want any part of a frosty morning.
Third, Canadian geese migrate from Canada to the southern US (like all the folks we see on I-95 with Quebec license plates). Hummingbirds have a final destination which is further south. They’re typically spread from the Florida Keys through Mexico to Central America. Therefore, a hitchhiking hummer would have to change planes in the heart of Dixie. I guess they could catch a duck in Atlanta for the last leg into Mexico.
Lastly, geese don’t use nectar as fuel (like the hummers do). Geese feed on vegetation during their migration. If a hummer was riding a goose, then the restaurants at the pit stops wouldn’t have anything appetizing. A hummingbird would starve even though it was riding.
The truth is hummingbirds migrate by themselves. Usually the males leave first. They can fly over 24 hours without feeding. Hummers can span distances between 500 and 700 miles on one tank of fuel. Western species of hummers can travel from Canada to Central America (approx. 2,700 miles) and only stop 4 times. When a hummingbird stops to refuel, it may take a week to regain it’s strength. Therefore, a 2,700 mile trip may take a month. That’s still pretty good for such a little fella.
Hummingbirds embark on their journey when they get fat and the days are shorter than the nights. The presence or absence of your feeder does not make them leave. When its time to leave, they will take off even if your yard is covered with feeders.
There are a few western species, like the Rufus and Black-chinned hummingbirds, that migrate to the lower regions of the deep South (gulf states like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi). These birds may sometimes be seen in North Carolina after our Ruby-throats have left. Many hummer lovers leave at least one feeder up for these stragglers until November or December.
For more info on our summer hummers, the Ruby-throated hummingbird, visit http://www.ncwildlife.org/pg07_wildlifespeciescon/Profiles/hummingbirdruby.pdf If you do not have internet access, then call 910-893-7533 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now we don’t know why geese make so much noise when they’re flying. We used to think it was the hummingbirds laying on the horn.
Gary L. Pierce
Horticulture Extension Agent