The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in North America, measuring from 2.8 to 3.9 inches and weighing about one-tenth of an ounce, comparable to the weight of a ping pong ball. Even with wings spread wide, they’re only about 4 inches, wingtip to wingtip.
5,000-Mile Yearly Migration
Tiny but mighty may be their motto as males defending their territory have been known to chase red-tail hawks. That great physical condition is the result of a 5,000-mile migration journey each year. The Calliope Hummingbird Species winters in Mexico and Central America returning each spring to nesting grounds in the high altitudes of the Cascade Mountains. The breeding range covers Idaho, western Montana, northern California, northwestern Nevada, the mountainous regions of Washington and Oregon and on into British Columbia in Canada.
Calliopes are the smallest long-distance migratory birds in the world. Their migration route is an oval, so they can be seen near the Pacific coast during the spring trek and down the spine of the Rockies in the autumn.
When migrating with other species of hummingbirds, they are not as brave as when defending their territory. The Calliope Hummingbird Species tends to sip nectar and feed on small bugs from flowers near the ground in order to avoid the bigger, aggressive hummingbirds. They can be enticed to gardens with brightly colored flowers or feeders. Calliopes tend to hover over flowers but are known to hover and perch at feeders.
Where To Find Calliopes
Birders will need to go high in the mountains during breeding season to find these tiny mites. However, the Calliope Hummingbird Species winters in both mountains and lowlands and may stray to lower altitudes along the migration route. They prefer scrubby brush near streams in open woodland and second growth, stands of Ponderosa pines and highland meadows. They often perch on bare branches at the top of a willow or alder tree. They may dart off to feed, but return to the same favorite perch.
Identifying Calliope Hummers
Like all hummingbirds, it is easier to identify a Calliope in the field by its actions because they dart so quickly that getting a good view with binoculars is difficult. Their tails and bills are short. They have green backs and crowns with a bronzy cast in sunlight. Their underparts are white. Females and immatures have a peachy wash over the white. Mature males have bright magenta streaks, or rays, from their beaks down their throats.
During courtship, a male hovers, dances and flares his magenta rays. He also performs a dazzling aerial show. He climbs 30-100 feet upward, then executes a steep U-shaped dive, popping and zinging at the bottom of the dive before ascending again.
Nesting And Family Time
Once the courtship is over, everything is left to the female. She builds a compact nest, usually in a conifer that is from 4,000 feet in altitude or higher to the treeline. She camouflages her nest with lichen before laying two white eggs. Incubation time is 15-16 days, and the babies are flying 18-21 days after they hatch. The oldest recorded Calliope Hummingbird is a female who was banded in Idaho, then recaptured 8 years and 1 month later in the same state.
Calliope Hummingbirds remain common in their range but are considered vulnerable because climate change is affecting their habitat.