Jewel of the Rockies: Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird by Tom Grey

 

ABC’s Dan Lebbin recalls one of his first encounters with a Calliope Hummingbird: “I was sitting in a grassy meadow surrounded by tall conifers, and daylight was dwindling after a long day of hiking in Yosemite National Park. A tiny bee-like hummingbird zipped over my head, flew low over the grass, and disappeared before I could get an identifying look. Was it a Calliope Hummingbird? The size and gestalt were correct… ”

 

At 3.25 inches long, the Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest breeding bird found in Canada and the United States—and the smallest long-distance migrant bird in the world. This tiny hummingbird travels over 5,500 miles round-trip during its migration!

 

Calliopes winter in dry thorn forest and humid pine-oak forests in southwestern and south-central Mexico. Vagrant Calliopes are increasingly found wintering in the eastern U.S., however, much like other species of western hummingbirds like the Rufous Hummingbird.

 

Adult males have a dramatic aerial display, a series of U-shaped dives starting and ending at the same points, accompanied by a metallic tzing sound and flashing, flaring violet-magenta gorget (throat) feathers—all calculated to impress a prospective mate.

 

Threats to the species include habitat loss, increased use of pesticides, and replacement of native plants by invasive species. Their restricted wintering range makes Calliope Hummingbirds susceptible to natural disasters, diseases, or land use changes that could wipe out significant portions of the population.