It weighs as much as the penny in your pocket, can raise its heart rate to 1,250 beats a minute, and may fly more than 1,000 miles -- at night and without a map -- to reach your backyard feeder. What is it? A hummingbird.
Thousands upon thousands of these smallest of birds migrate to the United States each spring from winter grounds in Mexico and Central America. They expend as much energy, it is said, as a human running a 4-minute mile, 1,200 times in a row, without stopping. And after a couple of months of hurried mating, young-raising, and fattening up (to the weight of two pennies!), they will hit the road -- or the sky -- again.
Many of the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that frequent our backyard gardens have made a 24-hour, 600-mile flight across the Gulf of Mexico before dispersing across the East. Why would they do such a thing? They can't help it! Birds are internally wired to fly where they are supposed to fly at the time they are supposed to go. Bird banders have found that migrating hummingbirds are faithful not only to their route but also to their schedule, very often showing up at the exact same place on the exact same day, year after year!
Find out more about the migrating birds in your region