|Species: Calliope Hummingbird
The smallest of all
breeding birds in the United States and Canada. An Adult male
Calliope weighs less than a penny. The species name is Greek for
‘beautiful voice’ and may refer to the muse of epic poetry; a
seemingly inappropriate name for a bird of limited vocal ability.
The male gorget of wine red streaks over a white background is
unique, one reason this species is traditionally placed in its own
A very small
hummingbird with a short black bill and very short tail with unique
spade-shaped central feathers that widen significantly from a narrow
base before tapering abruptly to a point (best developed in adults).
Wingtip broad, blunt and curved.
Bright green above, creamy white below with green wash on sides and
flanks. Gorget consists of wine red to reddish purple iridescence
over white background; individual feathers white basally, ranging in
shape from round or broadly oval and nearly flat at centre of gorget
to very long, narrow, pointed, and convex at corners. Face is dull
grayish, with slightly darker cheek, whitish mustachial stripe
beginning at base of upper mandible. Wingtips extend to or beyond
tip of very short, slightly notched tail. Tail feathers dull gray
variably edged in cinnamon-rufous basally; R1 narrow at base,
becoming wider towards tip before abruptly tapering to a
Bright grass green to golden green above, creamy white below washed
with cinnamon-rufous on sides, flanks , and across lower breast.
Gorget usually evenly stippled to spangled with dusky to brownish
bronze, rarely with a few larger spangles at lower centre reflecting
dull wine red. Face dull grayish with slightly darker cheek.
Slightly notched tail usually falls short of wingtips. Central tail
feathers green with or without narrow rufous edges at base; R3-5
(rarely R2-5) tipped white, usually with narrow edges of
cinnamon-rufous basally. Undertail coverts washed pale cinnamon,
paler at tips. Outer primary (P10) broad, blunt-tipped.
Male: Similar to adult female but usually with more heavily marked
gorget, often with random spots, streaks, or patches of wine red
iridescence. R1 always narrowly edged in dull cinnamon-rufous at
base (difficult to see).
Similar to adult female but with indistinct pale feather edges on
upperparts. R1 green with blackish tip, no rufous edges at base;
large white tip on R3, usually small white tip on R2.
Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds are slightly larger, with longer
bill and tail, richer rufous wash to underparts, more rufous in
outer tail feathers, and narrower, straighter primaries. Female and
immature male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are much larger, with longer
bill and tail, more rufous in outer tail feathers, and narrower,
Tail is often cocked upward, perpendicular to body, while hovering
at flowers or feeders. Takes nectar from a wide variety of plants,
including red currant, Indian paintbrush, orange honeysuckle,
western columbine, skyrocket, and Rocky Mountain beeplant. Often
takes nectar from flowers within inches of the ground. Takes insect
prey mostly by fly-catching from an exposed perch. Feeds regularly
at sapsucker wells. Males most assertive on breeding grounds.
Displays are more often directed at females than rival males, which
are usually chased. Dive display is U or J shaped, punctuated at
bottom of arc with pzzt-zing.
Breeds in montane conifer forests, in willows along streams, aspen
thickets and older second growth following fires or clear cutting.
Breeds at 4000-1000 feet, rarely as low as 500 feet. Winters from
low-elevation thorn forest to humid pine forest in southwestern
Mexico. Migrates through both montane and lowland habitats.
In absence of
natural fires, sunny openings in forest canopy left by small-scale
clear-cutting may be of benefit in stimulating growth of nectar
plants and shrub habitat for nesting. Survival of migrants may be
enhanced by feeders when natural nectar is scarce. Has reached at
least six years of age in the wild and twelve years in captivity.
The Calliope Hummingbird is the sole member of its genus.
Status: Least concern but more data is needed.
Williamson, Sheri L. Peterson Field Guides – Hummingbirds of North
America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.