Each spring Ontario’s only native species of hummingbird arrives along Lake Ontario and Erie’s shores to their summering and nesting grounds, heading through cottage country as far north as Thunder Bay. The tiny ruby-throated hummingbird is about the size of your pinkie: it is one of the smallest hummingbirds and yet it manages to travel from its wintering grounds in Central America through the US and arrives in Altona Forest by early May. Even more astounding, individual birds develop their own migration paths, and may find their way back to the very spot (a nesting tree, backyard feeder, field) they used the previous year. Now that’s some impressive GPS!
The spring migration begins in the land bridge between north and south American continents – in southern Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama. They gain as much fat as possible from the insects and nectar in the area and in late January to February begin their epic journey north.
They are solitary birds and don’t travel as a flock – though there are some areas known to have huge numbers arrive to rest and re-gain energy to continue north. The migration north takes months, and individuals arrive in Altona Forest over a period of weeks with the males arriving slightly earlier.
Some ruby-throated hummingbirds will use Altona Forest and our neighborhoods to rest and re-fuel on their continued journey north, but others arrive and stay for the summer.
For those who make Altona Forest home and nest in our woods – they will stake out a territory and males (who are slightly smaller than the females) will defend it with spectacular aerial maneuvers and the characteristic flashes of almost neon red from their throat feathers. They rely on the forest for protection from predators, wetland to produce insects to feed on, deciduous trees for nesting, and on wildflower nectar. The marginally larger female birds will build a toonie-size nest of lichens and spiderwebs in the higher branches of a deciduous tree and roost 2 offspring.
The young hummingbirds will learn quickly – how to fly, hunt insects, drink nectar and put on as much weight as possible for the southward migration. They instinctively know to leave when the days are shorter (photo-periods trigger both their weight gain and departure) and to follow a general route south. The local-nesting hummingbirds may leave as early as late August, but some stragglers from the north will come through the area as late as the first week of October. In the past 5 years of observations, there are birds in the Altona Forest area until the last days of September.
Suddenly they are gone – their preparations for departure fittingly coincide with the fall equinox. As fall settles over Altona’s trees, the tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds are on their remarkable southward migration back to central America, warmer climates, and the food sources the tropics promise.
You can be assured that they will be back next year – will you be watching?
First Annual Reported Altona Forest Sightings:
- May 8 2017 male
- May 16 2017 female
- May 8 2016 male
- May 17 2016 female
- May 8 2015 male
- May 9 2015 female
- May 9 2014 male
- May 10 2014 female
- May 8 2013 male
Altona’s Hummingbird Migration ~ © 2014 Natasha G