Meet the Calliope Hummingbird: Smallest Bird in the U.S.

Updated: Jun. 04, 2024

Learn how to identify a Calliope hummingbird, where to find these tiny birds, what the males and females look like and how to attract them.

Calliope Hummingbird Size

A female Calliope hummingbird hovering in front of an El Paso Skyrocket stem.Charles Melton/Alamy Stock Photo
Female Calliope at El Paso skyrocket flowers

Measuring a mere 3 inches long and weighing one-tenth of an ounce, roughly the same as a table tennis ball, the Calliope hummingbird is incredibly tiny. In fact, Eric Rasmussen, avian scientist at the MPG Ranch in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, points out that this hummingbird is the smallest bird seen in the United States.

Although quite tiny, it’s not the smallest hummingbird in world. Meet the world’s largest and smallest hummingbirds.

What Do Male and Female Calliope Hummingbirds Look Like?

A male Calliope hummingbird sits on a small branch while puffing out his bright purple neck feathers.Christine Haines
Male Calliopes puff out a flashy group of neck feathers, also known as the gorget, to woo potential mates.

Look for several key clues to identify this diminutive species. Both males and females sport glossy, bright green plumage on their heads and backs, with white on their underparts. Here’s how to tell male and female hummingbirds apart.

Male Calliopes puff out a shimmery group of neck feathers, also known as the gorget, to woo potential mates. The gorget has stripes of magenta along the throat, while females and juveniles just have a bit of cinnamon color underneath.

calliope hummingbirdCourtesy Susie Middaugh
Female Calliope hummingbirds are more plainly colored.

Look closely, too, at a Calliope’s tail and wings. “When they are perched, their wingtips tend to protrude just below the tail tip,” Eric says.

Calliope Hummingbird Range

calliope hummingbirdCourtesy Peg Runyan
After spending the summer in the northwest, Calliopes go to Mexico for the winter.

These small hummingbirds are found in parts of Utah, the western half of Wyoming and Montana, into southern Canada and the states west of the Rockies. This species is a long-distance migrant, traveling all the way down to central Mexico for the coldest months of the year.

Calliopes focus on flowers as they travel north for up to 2,800 miles mainly through the interior West in early spring. As the wildflower meadows of the Rocky Mountains bloom, Calliopes fly uphill, where they mate and raise their young before following the mountains as they travel back south in fall.

Follow along on the fascinating hummingbird migration journey.

Calliope Hummingbird Sounds

do hummingbirds mate for lifeCourtesy Ally Bryk
Male Calliope hummingbird puts on a courtship display for a female

During breeding season, male Calliopes are brave and territorial enough to chase off much larger birds, even hawks, from their territory.

To impress females, males fly high into the air, then dive down while making a buzzing noise with their tail feathers. A male will also hover in front of a female with his dazzling neck feathers ruffled forward while making a sound similar to a bumblebee.

Calliope hummingbirds make impressive sounds with their feathers when showing off to potential mates, but they aren’t particularly noisy birds. They let out a zippy chip when foraging or encountering other birds, but do not have a real bird song.

Bird sounds courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Calliope Hummingbird Nests

The location of the 1 1/2-inch-wide nests can vary, but they’re typically several feet up in a conifer tree. The female hummingbird cares for the young until they are ready for the first flight around three weeks old.

Discover amazing facts and pictures of baby hummingbirds.

Diet: What Do Calliope Hummingbirds Eat?

Indian paintbrush has clusters of red-orange flowers on red-tinted stems.Getty Images/vkbhat
Indian paintbrush has clusters of red-orange flowers that attract calliope hummingbirds.

Enjoy a front-row seat to Calliope hummingbird visits by creating an ideal habitat in your own backyard for these tiny fliers. Choose native plant options that bloom early in the season and continue through the fall for an ongoing food source.

At every age, hummingbirds need a constant food supply to maintain their energy. “I strongly encourage planting native flowers,” says Eric. “That is the best way to help hummingbirds.”

calliope hummingbirdCourtesy Mark Vogt
Female Calliope at scarlet bee balm

Choose native plants with smaller blossoms to attract Calliope hummingbirds.

  • Anise hyssop
  • Beardtongue
  • Bee balm
  • Coral bells
  • Golden currant
  • Indian paintbrush
  • Western columbine

If you put out sugar-water feeders to attract Calliopes or other hummers, you shouldn’t use red dye in the mixture.

Besides feeding on nectar, Calliope hummingbirds perch on branches before diving to snatch and eat insects from midair. They also may collect spiderwebs for their nests.

Eric notes that hummingbirds, including Calliopes, prefer shallow water features that gently bubble. “They need a little place to perch,” he adds.

About the Expert

Eric Rasmussen is an avian scientist at MPG Ranch in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, where he conducts breeding bird surveys, raptor migration surveys, and winter bird surveys. He received a bachelor of science degree in resource conservation from the University of Montana.