Flower-Powered Migratory Species
Compare and Contrast

Materials: Research Page
Overview: As you follow the spring journeys of hummingbirds and monarchs, compare the species and their migrations by focusing on the food that drives their journeys!

Monarch Butterflies and Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are crossing eastern North America right now. Both fill their tanks with nectar from flowers as they head north to their breeding grounds. Which one reaches your backyard or the Canadian border first each spring?

Each species needs to obtain food energy from flower nectar. (Hummingbirds also eat sap and insects.) Their physical and behavioral adaptations, life cycles, habitats, and migration timing are all linked to that need for nectar. Exactly when flowers bloom and secrete nectar is affected by daylength and weather during the spring season. For instance, a cold or dry spring can slow down the flowering of important nectar plants.

Laying the Groundwork
Have students look at and compare the current monarch and hummingbird migration maps on this Research Page. Ask, What similarities or patterns do you notice? How would you explain them?

Discuss why some of the patterns might exist. If it doesn't come up, ask, How do these animals get energy for long migrations? If students aren't familiar with the animals' spring food sources, ask where they've seen monarchs or hummingbirds feed. Invite the class to compare these species — and their relationships with nectar sources — throughout the spring.


  1. Throughout the spring, your class can do the following:
    * Compare the migration timing and paths of these species via Journey North migration maps and reports.
    * Compare weather maps with migration maps for each species.
    * Observe both species feeding (depending on your location).
  2. Get students to compare these species by having them visit links on the Research Page. Be sure to record questions the comparisions raise as a way to stimulate further research.
Venn Diagram (Click for a larger one or have students draw their own!)
Making Connections
Have students create Venn diagrams to organize the similarities and differences between the two species.

Journaling and Discussion Questions
As students learn about the animals and their migrations, assign one or more of these questions. Students should document new information, understanding, and their own questions in journals.
  • How do the animals' habitats compare? (Reminder: habitat includes food, water, shelter and space.)
  • What are the energy sources for each of their migrations?
  • How do the animals' life cycle stages affect their food needs? (Reminder: think carefully about the monarch's life cycle and related needs in spring.)
  • How are these species physically adapted for obtaining food?
  • How are these species behaviorally adapted for obtaining food?
  • What affects the availability of their spring food sources?
  • What factors seem to affect the timing and path of their migrations?
  • In what ways does weather seem to affect the food availability or migration of each species? (Reminder: monarchs are cold-blooded; hummingbirds are warm-blooded.)


Flowers That Fuel Migration: Observe, Compare, and Think!
Careful observations of the types of flower hummingbirds and monarchs select reveals interesting differences. Why does each creature choose the flower types it does? Explore what makes each animal a good "fit" for its flowers.