Meet the Calliope Hummingbird: Smallest Bird in the U.S.
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.
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Calliope Hummingbird Size
Measuring a mere 3 inches long and weighing roughly the same as a pingpong 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?
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.
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
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 Nesting Habits
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.
“Every spring my husband and I eagerly await the arrival of the Calliope hummingbirds here in Spokane, Washington, and we hope to get a glimpse of their special dance. This year, I was very lucky to be in the right place at the exact right time. After several daredevil dives from the sky to impress his lady, this exquisite male Calliope (above) transformed himself into a brilliant flower as he buzzed back and forth in front of the female in a hypnotic display. We’re not sure if Miss Calliope was impressed or not, but we were thoroughly captivated by this amazing little creature,” says Birds & Blooms reader Ally Bryk.
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.
How to 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.”
Choose native plants with smaller blossoms to attract Calliope hummingbirds.
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.