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Calliope Hummingbird

Selasphorus calliope ORDER: CAPRIMULGIFORMES FAMILY: TROCHILIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Magenta rays burst from the throats of the male Calliope Hummingbird as it dances and hovers, performing U-shaped display dives for females. During these displays he makes a sputtering buzz with tail feathers and gives a sharp zinging call. This is the smallest bird in the United States, yet this tiny hummingbird breeds in meadows and open forests high in chilly Northwestern mountains, and travels more than 5,000 miles each year to pine-oak forests in Mexico and back again.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Male
Length
3.5 in
9 cm
Wingspan
4.3 in
11 cm
Weight
0.1–0.1 oz
2.3–3.4 g
Female
Weight
0.1–0.1 oz
2.6–3.2 g
Relative Size
Smaller than a Black-chinned hummingbird.
Other Names
  • Colibri calliope (French)
  • Chupamirto rafaguitas, Colibrí gorgirrayado (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United States. It weighs about one-third as much as the smallest North American warblers and about the same as a ping pong ball.
  • This tiny hummingbird is the smallest long-distance migrant in the world. Calliope Hummingbirds travel around 5,000 miles each year in a big oval from the breeding to wintering grounds. They migrate north along the Pacific Coast in the spring, but return to the wintering grounds in Mexico via an inland route along the Rocky Mountains.
  • Calliope Hummingbird is named after Calliope, the muse of eloquence and epic poetry, who inspired Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
  • Despite their tiny size, these territorial birds may chase birds as big as Red-tailed Hawks during the breeding season.
  • While hovering, these birds‘ metabolic rates increase to more than 16 times resting level.
  • The oldest recorded Calliope Hummingbird was a female, and at least 8 years, 1 month old, when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Idaho in 2014. She had been banded in the same state in 2007.

Habitat


Open Woodland

This 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.

Food


Nectar

Calliope 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.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.4–0.5 in
1–1.3 cm
Egg Width
0.3–0.4 in
0.7–1 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.
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.

Nest Placement

Tree

The 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.

Behavior


Hovering

On 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.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Calliope Hummingbirds are relatively common and their populations appear relatively stable, though they experienced a small decline of 9% between 1970 and 2017, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 4.5 million, with 74% breeding in the U.S. and 25% in Canada. The entire population winters in Mexico. The 2016 State of North America's Birds Report rates the Calliope Hummingbird a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not currently on the Watch List. Recent winter records in the southeastern United States suggest possible range expansion of this species, perhaps associated with environmental changes caused by humans.

Credits

Range Map Help

Calliope Hummingbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Long-distance migrant. In the spring, they migrate north along the Pacific Coast. In the fall, they migrate south along the Rocky Mountains.

Backyard Tips

Putting up a sugar water feeder may give you an opportunity to watch a Calliope Hummingbird up close. Use a ratio of one-part table sugar dissolved in four parts water, and don’t use food coloring. Learn more about feeding hummingbirds.

Adding flowers to your yard is another way to attract hummingbirds while also adding beauty to your yard. Learn more about creating a hummingbird garden at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

One way to find a Calliope Hummingbird is to find its favorite perch on the breeding grounds. Most often their favorite perch is a bare branch sticking up out of a willow or alder. They habitually return to these perches, so look at the tops of these shrubs and you just might see a tiny bird perched atop. Another approach in summer is to listen for its zing as it dives in a U-shaped display flight in meadows and forest openings. Outside of the breeding season, their elliptical migration route means that in spring you are more likely to find them in coastal areas, while in the fall, they are more common in interior locations at higher elevations along the Rocky Mountains.

You Might Also Like

Feeding Hummingbirds, All About Birds, April 20, 2009.

Not All Sweetness And Light: The Real Diet Of Hummingbirds, All About Birds, Living Bird, Autumn 2010.

Western hummingbirds in the East–set your feeders out!!, eBird, November 8, 2012.

When do you see more hummingbirds at your feeders?, Project FeederWatch, June 6, 2014.

Here's what to feed your summer bird feeder visitors, All About Birds, July 11, 2014.

Annual Changes In Hummingbird Migration Revealed By Birders’ Sightings, All About Birds, March 25, 2015.

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