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The Calliope Hummingbird, one of the smallest birds in the United States, is a creature of both beauty and intrigue. Its distinctive physical characteristics, including the magenta rays on the throat of adult males and the peachy washed underparts of females and immature males, make it a captivating subject for observation.

The hummingbird's hovering feeding techniques and high-pitched trilling during courtship add depth to its already fascinating nature. However, there is much more to uncover about this enchanting species, from its spring migration patterns to its iridescent throat patch.

Key Takeaways

  • The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United States and Canada.
  • They have a high metabolic rate and undertake a notable 5,000-mile migration to central Mexico during winter.
  • Their iridescent throat patch aids in courtship displays and species identification.
  • Calliope Hummingbirds exhibit remarkable hovering feeding techniques and rely on them for survival.

Smallest Bird in the U.S

ruby throated hummingbird s small size

The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United States and Canada. Its defining features include short wings and tails in females and immature males, a peachy underpart wash, and a bronze-green back. Male adults stand out with their hunched posture, magenta throat rays, and greenish vest.

During breeding, they exhibit U-shaped display dives for females, producing a sputtering buzz and a sharp zinging call using their tail feathers.

Habitats of the Calliope Hummingbird include mountain meadows, aspen thickets near streams, and open forests recovering from fire or logging. In winter, they inhabit pine-oak forests and scrubby edges in Mexico.

These characteristics make them a captivating sight for birdwatchers in North America.

Distinctive Physical Characteristics

The Calliope Hummingbird, smallest of North American hummingbirds, is distinguished by its vivid physical traits. The adult male, characterized by a hunched posture and vibrant magenta throat rays, exudes a captivating presence. A greenish vest, short tail, wings, and a thin, short bill further define the adult male's appearance. Their mesmerizing U-shaped display dives, accompanied by a sputtering buzz and sharp zinging call, enhance their unique charm.

On the other hand, females and immature males, wearing a peachy wash on their underparts and bronze-green backs, present a contrasting visual.

The Calliope Hummingbird's habitats for breeding include mountain meadows, aspen thickets near streams, and regenerating open forests. During winters, they inhabit pine-oak forests and scrubby edges in Mexico.

Their size, colorful feathers, and distinctive displays categorize the Calliope Hummingbird as a true spectacle in the avian world.

Anatomy and physiology

study of body functions

The anatomy and physiology of the Calliope Hummingbird are marked by three distinctive features.

First, these birds possess a high metabolic rate which enables them to catch small flying insects and consume nectar from flowers, affirming their adaption to their diet and energy requirements.

Second, they undertake a notable 5,000-mile migration each year to central Mexico during winter, demonstrating reliance on flowers for food during this travel.

Third, their physiology supports a diet primarily of sugar water, necessitating dependence on specific flower species for sustenance.

Such intricate adaptations of the Calliope Hummingbird, researched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, continue to offer intriguing insights into the avian species of North America.

Iridescent Throat Patch

colorful bird with throat patch

The iridescent throat patch of the Calliope Hummingbird, shining brightly under the sun, is a distinct characteristic that aids in their courtship displays and species identification.

Adult males stun with their magenta and green hues, while females and immature males display a mix of peach and green on their throats.

In the mating period, male Calliope Hummingbirds engage in U-shaped flight patterns to attract females, producing distinct sounds and vibrations with their tail feathers.

This iridescent display is a key distinguishing feature for the Calliope Hummingbird, separating them from similar species such as the Allens Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, and Broad-tailed Hummingbird.

The Calliope Hummingbird's iridescent throat patch is a striking testament to nature's beauty, prominently seen in the bird's natural habitat among the flowers of the Rocky Mountains.

Hovering Feeding Techniques

hummingbirds hovering feeding techniques

The Calliope Hummingbird employs a remarkable hovering feeding technique. This bird, featuring an iridescent throat patch, exhibits exceptional agility and specialized foraging abilities. Noteworthy is the bird's ability to hover mid-air with precision and grace during feeding.

The sight of the hummingbird's sputtering buzz and fanned tail, combined with a sharp zinging call, captivates observers. Despite being small in size, the Calliope Hummingbird undertakes long-distance migrations, relying heavily on its hovering feeding techniques for survival.

This bird has the innate ability to insert its specialized bill into flower centers while hovering, exhibiting impressive control and precision. Its skill in catching small insects mid-air or from foliage further underscores its mastery of aerial feeding techniques.

Spring Migration Patterns

birds annual spring migration

The Calliope Hummingbird's spring migration patterns involve a northwest movement through Pacific lowlands during early spring. This pattern changes to a southeast direction in very early fall, starting in July, with a total annual distance covered of approximately 5,000 miles.

Adult males are the first to migrate, typically arriving before females and young. Their preferred locations change with the seasons, favoring coastal areas in spring and shifting to interior locations along the Rocky Mountains during fall.

The elliptical migration route demonstrates their ability to return to preferred perches. Bird enthusiasts can identify these hummingbirds by their small size, distinctive plumage, iridescent throat, and elongated tail feathers.

High-Pitched Trilling During Courtship

The high-pitched trilling of the Calliope Hummingbird during courtship is an engaging part of its intricate mating ritual.

This ritual involves adult males, characterized by magenta rays on their throat and a greenish vest, executing U-shaped display dives. They produce a sputtering buzz with their tail feathers and a sharp zinging call, aimed at attracting females.

Females and immature males, recognised by peachy wash underparts and green stippling on the throat, are attracted to this courtship dance. Bird enthusiasts can observe this ritual by referring to a Bird Guide for Bird ID and providing support for these birds by setting up sugar water feeders and planting native flowers.

This courtship of the Calliope Hummingbird provides a unique chance to observe the marvels of nature.

Do Calliope Hummingbirds and Black Rosy Finches Have Similar Feeding Habits?

Calliope hummingbirds and black rosy finches have different feeding habits. While calliope hummingbirds primarily feed on nectar from brightly colored flowers, black rosy finches prefer to eat seeds and insects. Understanding black rosy finch information can help bird enthusiasts attract these unique birds to their feeders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Calliope Hummingbirds Rare?

The Calliope Hummingbirds, although uncommon, are not considered rare. Their habitat primarily consists of mountain meadows, aspen thickets, and regenerating open forests. These birds are distinguished by their unique 'zing' sound and U-shaped display flights. Each year, they undertake an elliptical migration route that spans approximately 5,000 miles.

How Do You Identify a Calliope Hummingbird?

Identifying a Calliope Hummingbird involves observing a few key characteristics. The bird's small size, hunched posture, short tail, and short wings are a starting point. A further inspection should reveal distinct color patterns and a unique foraging behavior. Listening is also a part of the identification process; the bird is known for making a 'zing' sound during its U-shaped display flights.

Why Is It Called Calliope Hummingbird?

The Calliope Hummingbird gets its name from the muse Calliope in Greek mythology, who is associated with eloquence and epic poetry. This naming choice mirrors the distinctive and poetic characteristics of the bird, contributing to the attraction and intrigue towards this exceptional species.

Where Do Calliope Hummingbirds Nest?

The Calliope Hummingbirds establish their nests in environments such as mountain meadows, aspen thickets adjacent to streams, and in forests that are recovering post fire or logging operations. They express a preference for sites abundant in native flowers coupled with shallow water features for their resting needs.


In conclusion, the Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the U.S and is known for its distinctive physical characteristics, including its iridescent throat patch.

Their hovering feeding techniques and spring migration patterns are fascinating to observe, as is their high-pitched trilling during courtship.

These tiny birds are a marvel of nature and their presence in mountain meadows and open forests is a testament to the beauty and diversity of the natural world.