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calliope hummingbird

Stellula calliope

What do they look like?

Calliope hummingbirds are very unique. Their wings go past their tail when they are folded back, although their wings are much shorter than those of closely related species, which makes them sound similar to a bumblebee when they fly. Their upper bill is a dull black and their lower bill is dusky near the end and brownish towards the bottom. Their eyes are dark brown and their legs and feet are dusky. Calliopes stand out among other related hummingbirds, such as rufous hummingbirds, broad-tailed hummingbirds, or Allen's hummingbirds by having a shorter bill and shorter tail, very little rufous (red-brown) in their tail, and a patch of pale buff on their breast rather than on their sides and flanks. Female and immature bumblebee hummingbirds are very similar to calliope hummingbirds, but do not have the broad, rounded ends on their tail feathers. (Tacutu, et al., 2013; Calder and Calder, 1994; Clark, 2011; Lasiewski, 1963)

Male calliope hummingbirds have a metallic bronze-green color on their backs, duller foreheads, and a unique tail shape. Their inner rectories, tail feathers used in flight, are slightly spade-shaped. All of their rectrices are stiffer than those of most other hummingbirds, and are dull purplish-black or dusky, with a cinnamon-rufous edge and tipped with a dull brownish gray color. Their regimes (the feathers of the wing used in flight) are dull brown, slate, or dusky with a purplish gloss. They have iridescent feathers on their neck, which form a star-burst of vibrant metallic purple across the pure white feathers of their chin and throat. Their necks and chests are white or grayish-white and the rest of their underparts are more grayish. Their under-tails are white with a cinnamon buff towards their hind ends. Male calliope hummingbirds have metallic bronze-green feathers on their sides. Immature males look very similar to adult males, except they do not have the iridescent neck feathers. (Tacutu, et al., 2013; Calder and Calder, 1994; Clark, 2011; Lasiewski, 1963)

Female calliope hummingbirds are less vibrant. They have a metallic bronze-green coloration on their backs, but they do not have the unique tail shape of the males. Their regimes are brownish slate or dusk, and are faintly glossed with purple. The feathers near their ears are light brownish gray with a triangular space in front of their eyes. Their chins and throats are a dull brownish white, usually streaked or flecked with a dusky or bronzy brownish color. Their chests are a pale, grayish cinnamon buff or a dull white. The sides and flanks of female calliope hummingbirds are cinnamon or deep cinnamon buff. Their under-tail is similar, but paler. The femoral tufts on either side of their rump are white. Immature females look very similar to adult females. (Tacutu, et al., 2013; Calder and Calder, 1994; Clark, 2011; Lasiewski, 1963)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • ornamentation
  • Range mass
    2.5 to 3.3 g
    0.09 to 0.12 oz
  • Average mass
    2.8 g
    0.10 oz
  • Average length
    8 cm
    3.15 in
  • Range wingspan
    39.55 to 42.00 mm
    1.56 to 1.65 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.0685 cm3.O2/g/hr

Where do they live?

Calliope hummingbirds (Stellula calliope) are only found in western North America, ranging from Southern Canada to Mexico, depending on the season. They are the smallest known long-distance migratory birds, traveling up to 9,000 km each year. From March to August, they can be found in their breeding range in the Northern Rocky Mountains, from British Columbia to Nevada and as far east as Wyoming. They winter in central Mexico, mainly in the southwestern parts of the country. Once in a while, calliope hummingbirds are found in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, which is not inside their normal range. This is likely just due to bad weather, as they are not often seen in these areas. (Bassett and Doreen, 2009; Calder and Calder, 1994; Newfield, 1984)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Calliope hummingbirds can be found in many different types of habitats. They are mainly found in the mountains at elevations from 1,200 meters up to the timberline at 3,400 meters; however, they may breed at elevations as low as 185 meters. Their long migrations take them through a variety of habitats, depending on how far they travel. In south central Mexico, they can be found in rainforests, but they can also be found in tundras and taigas in southwestern Canada. In less extreme areas, calliope hummingbirds can be found in grasslands, desert and scrub forests, and alpine habitats. (Calder and Calder, 1994)

  • Range elevation
    185 to 3,400 m
    606.96 to ft
  • Average elevation
    2,300 m

How do they reproduce?

Calliope hummingbirds are polygynous, meaning one male mates with multiple females. Males of this species become very territorial during the mating season. They create breeding territories near open areas, such as meadows or forest clearings. During the breeding season, they follow females who enter their territories. Females respond by hiding or fleeing. If the male catches the female, she will land somewhere in his territory. He will then give territorial displays such as a shuttle display, which includes a series of diving, buzzing, hovering, chasing, and vocalizing. During the shuttle display, the male lifts the iridescent neck feathers below his chin into a starburst that looks like a flower. While doing this, the male hovers in front of the female and makes a loud buzzing noise. During dives the male goes 10 to 30 meters into the air and then dives down. Hover displays are done about 10 m above ground level. Male calliope hummingbirds give buzzing displays when a female is perched in his territory. He hovers in front of her and makes loud buzzing sounds. Sometimes during this behavior, the female leaves the perch and joins the male in a circle dance, where both birds spin around in circles, sometimes clasping bills. Diving is usually done before chasing, which involves chasing intruders that enter the territory. Males will chase other calliope hummingbirds, other hummingbird species, and bumblebees from their territories. While chasing, males make vocalizations such as chattering noises. They also give these noises when perching or leaving their territories. (Calder and Calder, 1994; Clark, 2011; Tamm, et al., 1989)

Calliope hummingbirds have a similar breeding cycle to most hummingbird species. Their breeding season lasts from late April to late June. The normal number of eggs in a clutch is two; however, there are reports of females caring for four young in two different nests. The time from nest building to fledgling takes about 34 to 38 days. Egg incubation takes about 15 or 16 days. Once the eggs hatch, the chicks stay in the nest for about 18 to 21 days. After this time, they are old enough to feed themselves and leave the nest. Young calliope hummingbirds are not ready to mate until the spring following their hatching, which is about one year. (Batchelder, et al., 2012; Calder and Calder, 1994)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Calliope hummingbirds breed on once a year.
  • Breeding season
    These hummingbirds breed from April through June.
  • Range eggs per season
    0 to 4
  • Range time to hatching
    15 to 16 days
  • Range fledging age
    18 to 21 days
  • Range time to independence
    3 to 21 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    9 to 11 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    9 to 11 months

Among calliope hummingbirds, only females take care of the young. Females build the nest and incubate the eggs and once the eggs hatch, they feed the chicks until they are fledglings and remove waste from the nest to keep it clean. (Batchelder, et al., 2012; Calder and Calder, 1994)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

There is little information available about the lifespan of calliope hummingbirds in the wild or in captivity. The only record of lifespan for this species is from two banded females that were captured six years after they were originally banded, and one male that was recaptured five years after being banded. Little is known about their main causes of death, but their yearly long-distance migration may be extremely exhausting and could possibly lead to a decreased lifespan. (Calder and Calder, 1994)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 to 6 years

How do they behave?

The behavior of calliope hummingbirds is similar to other hummingbird species. The species is solitary, only interacting with individuals of the same species during mating season. However, calliope hummingbirds and rufous hummingbirds may live in the same range. Calliope hummingbirds have been observed diving or chasing a variety of bird species, from other hummingbirds to larger birds, such as red-tailed hawks. Calliopes migrate very long distances each year, from their summer range to their winter range and back. They may be found in many locations along their route as they stop to refuel on nectar. Like most hummingbirds, calliopes can go into torpor, but they do not do this on a daily basis. (Calder and Calder, 1994; Martin, 1988)

  • Range territory size
    2000 to 3000 m^2

Home Range

The territory size of male calliope hummingbirds in their summer range is roughly 2,000 to 3,000 square meters. In their summer range, females nest in partially wooded areas near the open areas that the males defend. (Calder and Calder, 1994; Tamm, et al., 1989)

How do they communicate with each other?

Like many hummingbirds, calliope hummingbirds make a variety of noises, especially when trying to attract a mate. Their wing trills and tail sounds are important courtship signals, as are their visual flight displays. Males from other hummingbird species spread their tail feathers as a visual display for mates, but there are no reports of similar behaviors in calliope males, which suggests their tail feathers are not important for attracting mates. (Calder and Calder, 1994; Clark, 2011; Hunter and Picman, 2005; Hunter, 2008)

What do they eat?

Calliope hummingbirds are nectarivores and insectivores. They feed on insects by flying from a perch to catch an insect in the air. They are known for eating smaller insects such as flies, beetles, ants, bees, and wasps. Calliope hummingbirds feed at "sap wells", which are holes in trees created by sapsuckers. At sap wells, they likely feed on both insects and sap. Hummingbirds feed on nectar by using their long tongues to lick it out of flowers. Calliope hummingbirds are well known for visiting red tubular shaped flowers, although they do feed on white, yellow, blue and purple flowers as well. A few of the flowering plants calliope hummingbirds visit regularly include Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja), beardtongues (Penstemon), columbines (Aquilegia), and larkspurs (Delphinium). (Calder and Calder, 1994; Martin, 1988; Temeles, et al., 2002)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • nectar
  • sap or other plant fluids

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Little is known about the predators or anti-predator adaptations of calliope hummingbirds. There are no reports of successful predation on calliope hummingbirds. However, Carolina mantises, which may grow up to 6 cm, have been reported as a possible predator. In this report, a young calliope hummingbird was seen feeding next to a Carolina mantis; the hummingbird then dropped to the ground with a "whrrr" call and flew away. Although there have been no observations of Carolina mantises preying on calliope hummingbirds, mantises have been observed attacking other hummingbird species. (Shane and Shane, 2007)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Calliope hummingbirds are important pollinators of many flowers. They forage on a variety of flowering plants, especially tubular-shaped flowers. Calliope hummingbirds have a mutualistic relationship with the plants they visit. The hummingbirds benefit from receiving food from the plants, while pollinating the plants at the same time. (Temeles, et al., 2002)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates
Species (or larger taxonomic groups) that are mutualists with this species
  • Angiosperms

Do they cause problems?

There are no known negative effects of calliope hummingbirds on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Calliope hummingbirds benefit humans by eating insects and by pollinating flowers. They may also be important due to eco-tourism in areas where they live, either in their winter or summer ranges. Their beauty may draw attention and research from all over the world by bird and natures lovers. (Calder and Calder, 1994)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • ecotourism
  • research and education
  • pollinates crops
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Calliope hummingbirds have been considered a species of 'Least Concern' since 2004. This is based on the IUCN Red List, which focuses on the species range size, population trends, and population size to determine their status. Calliope hummingbirds have a relatively large range. Likewise, their population size is extremely large and their population trends are stable. (BirdLife International, 2013)


Valorie Lyman (author), University of Wyoming, Hayley Lanier (editor), University of Wyoming - Casper, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


2013. "Calliope Hummingbird" (On-line). National Audubon Society. Accessed November 13, 2013 at

Bassett, F., C. Doreen. 2009. Wintering hummingbirds in Alabama and Florida: species diversity, sex and age ratios, and site fidelity. Journal of Field Ornithology, 80/2: 154-162.

Batchelder, N., G. Batchelder, D. Livezey, J. Marks. 2012. Simultaneous multiple nests of Calliope Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124/3: 640-643.

BirdLife International, 2013. "Stellula calliope" (On-line). IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed November 13, 2013 at

Calder, W., L. Calder. 1994. "Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope)" (On-line). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Accessed November 13, 2013 at

Clark, C. 2011. Wing, tail, and vocal contributions to the complex acoustic signals of courting Calliope hummingbirds. Current Zoology, 57/2: 187-196.

Dunn, J., J. Alderfer. 2011. Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Book Division: National Geographic Society.

Hunter, T. 2008. On the role of wing sounds in hummingbird communication. The Auk, 125/3: 532-541.

Hunter, T., J. Picman. 2005. Characteristics of the wing sounds of four hummingbird species that breed in Canada. The Condor, 107/3: 570-582.

Lasiewski, R. 1963. Oxygen consumption of torpid, resting, active, and flying hummingbirds. Physiological Zoology, 36/2: 122-140.

Martin, J. 1988. Different feeding strategies of two sympatric hummingbird species. The Condor, 90/1: 233-236.

Newfield, N. 1984. Three records of Calliope Hummingbird from Louisiana. The Condor, 86/3: 346-348.

Shane, T., S. Shane. 2007. Predator avoidance behavior by the Calliope Hummingbird. Kansas Ornithological Society, 58/1: 11.

Tacutu, R., T. Craig, A. Budovsky, D. Wuttke, G. Lehmann, D. Taranukha, J. Costa, V. Fraifeld, J. de Magalhaes. 2013. "AnAge entry for Stellula calliope" (On-line). AnAge: Animal Ageing and Longevity Databse. Accessed November 13, 2013 at

Tamm, S., D. Armstrong, Z. Tooze. 1989. Display behavior of male Calliope Hummingbirds during the breeding season. The Condor, 91/2: 272-279.

Temeles, E., Y. Linhart, M. Masonjones, H. Masonjones. 2002. The role of flower width in hummingbird bill length-flower length relationships. Biotropica, 34/1: 68-80.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Lyman, V. 2014. "Stellula calliope" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 18, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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