Skip to main content

Calliope Hummingbird Life History


Open WoodlandsThis tiny hummingbird breeds in cool mountain environments in mountain meadows, willow and alder thickets near streams, and forests regenerating after a fire or logging. They typically breed at elevations between 4,000 and 11,000 feet, but may breed down to 600 feet along the Columbia River. During spring they migrate north along the coast, stopping in desert washes, coastal scrub near streams, and lower coastal forests to refuel. In the fall they fly south via the Rocky Mountains, stopping in subalpine and mountain meadows. In the winter months, Calliope Hummingbirds use thorn forests, pine-oak forests, and brushy edges in Mexico. Back to top


NectarCalliope Hummingbirds take nectar from cup-shaped flowers or isolated tubular flowers not frequently sought by larger hummingbirds. They forage for small flying insects by “hawking”—perching on a branch and flying out to catch an insect in midair. Calliope Hummingbirds also feed regularly at sapwells created by sapsuckers, probably taking both sap and insects stuck in the sap.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeThe female typically nests on a branch of an evergreen tree such as lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, or western red cedar where the nest can be sheltered from precipitation and cold by an overhanging branch. She frequently builds the nest where an old pine cone grew on the branch, making the nest look like a cone. Nest height ranges from 6–39 feet above the ground.

Nest Description

Females build a well-insulated cup-shaped nest with soft, downy plant material. She camouflages the exterior with bits of lichen, moss, or bark fragments, which she binds together with spiderweb. On the outside, nests are 1.5-1.8 inches wide and just over an inch high. The inside of the nest has a diameter of 0.8 inches and is 0.6 inches deep. Females may reuse nests or build upon older nests in subsequent nesting attempts.

Nesting Facts

Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.4-0.5 in (1-1.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.3-0.4 in (0.74-0.96 cm)
Incubation Period:15-16 days
Nestling Period:18-21 days
Egg Description:Tiny, smooth, white.
Condition at Hatching:Naked and helpless with bits of down along the back.
Back to top


HoveringOn the breeding grounds, male Calliope Hummingbirds aggressively defend their territories. Males spend more than half their time perched on exposed branches of willows and alders with a good view of their territory, allowing them to quickly chase off any intruders. Despite their tiny size they chase away Red-tailed Hawks, sapsuckers, Dusky Flycatchers, American Robins, and other species that come near. They spend around 6% of their time performing shuttle and dive displays primarily for females. In their spectacular U-shaped dives, they fly up to 100 feet in the air, dive to near the ground, and then rise up again to repeat the flight. During the dive they make a sputtering buzz with their tail feathers and make a sharp, high-pitched zinging call. Males also perform a shuttle display, in which they hover in front of females with their gorgets flared and wings pulsing to produce a bumblebee-like buzz. Males display for multiple females but do not help care for the young. Though they are strongly territorial on the breeding grounds they are subordinate to larger hummingbird species on the wintering grounds in Mexico. Back to top


Low Concern

Calliope Hummingbirds are fairly common and their populations appear relatively stable, though they experienced a small decline of about 0.06% from 1968 to 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 4.5 million and rates the Calliope Hummingbird 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. It is included on their Yellow Watch List for species with a restricted range (the entire population winters in Mexico).

Back to top


Calder, William A. and Lorene L. Calder. (1994). Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M. Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Back to top

Learn more at Birds of the World