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Calliope Hummingbird
Selasphorus calliope
by Cornell Lab of Ornithology
credits: {credits}
Male Calliope Hummingbird
Female Calliope Hummingbird
The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in North America north of Mexico. Despite its small stature, it breeds in the chilly mountain environments of the northwestern United States. The male’s magenta burst of rays at its throat make it a standout from other hummingbirds. Tiny but tough, these birds are the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world, spending winters in Mexico and a few small pockets of the southern U.S.


        3.5 in
        9 cm
        4.3 in
        11 cm
        0.1–0.1 oz
        2.3–3.4 g
        0.1–0.1 oz
        2.6–3.2 g

Other Names
    Colibri calliope (French)
    Chupamirto rafaguitas,
    Colibrí gorgirrayado     (Spanish)

At a Glance





Open Woodland

Cool Facts
  • The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in North America. Its mass is about one-third that of the smallest North American warblers. It is also the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world. Eggs may be up to 20 percent of a female’s body weight.
  • Calliope Hummingbird is named after Calliope, the muse of eloquence and epic poetry, who inspired Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
  • Despite their tiny size, these territorial birds may chase birds as big as Red-tailed Hawks during the breeding season.
  • While hovering, these birds‘ metabolic rates increase to more than 16 times resting level.
  • The longest-lived Calliope Hummingbird was at least 7 years old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Montana.
Open Woodland
This little bird generally inhabits the cool environments of open montane forests, mountain meadows, and willow and alder thickets, often near running streams. They typically live between 4,000 and 11,000 feet, but may breed at lower elevations, down to 600 feet. During migration and winter months, Calliope Hummingbirds are found in chaparral, lowland brushy areas, deserts and semidesert regions. These birds’ elliptical migration routes mean that in spring they are more likely to be found in coastal areas, and in fall, they are in more interior locations at higher elevations. Birds establish breeding territories in or near open areas with suitable lookout posts. There appears to be fidelity to breeding sites year after year.

Nectar and small insects. These birds get nectar from cup-shaped flowers or isolated tubular flowers not sought by larger hummingbirds. They forage aerially for small insects by “hawking” — perching on a branch and flying out to catch an insect in midair. Calliope Hummingbirds also feed regularly at sapwells created by sapsuckers, probably taking both insects and sap.

Nesting Facts

    Clutch Size
        2 eggs

    Number of Broods
        1-2 broods

    Egg Length
        0.4–0.5 in
        1–1.3 cm

    Egg Width
        0.3–0.4 in
        0.7–1 cm

    Incubation Period
        15–16 days

    Nestling Period
        18–21 days

    Egg Description
        Tiny, smooth, white.

    Condition at Hatching
        Naked and helpless.

Nest Description

Nests are built and tended by females, and are found in coniferous trees, usually sheltered under an overhanging branch.

Nest Placement

Nests are a hemispherical cup, often built on an old, dead pine cone base. They are lined and well insulated with soft, downy plant materials. The exterior is made up of lichens, moss, or bark fragments, bound together with strands of spider web. On the outside, nests are 1.5-1.8 inches wide and just over an inch high. Calliope Hummingbirds may reuse nests and nests may be higher if a second is rebuilt upon a first. The inside of the nest has a diameter of 0.8 inches and is 0.6 inches deep.

Hummingbird babies in a hummingbird nest with ruler


Male Calliope Hummingbirds defend feeding and breeding territories against other Calliopes. Possibly due to their small size, they’re not typically aggressive toward other species. Males mate with more than one female per season and do not help with nesting activities. When courting, males hover in front of and slightly above a female. Females sometimes respond by taking flight and the pair fly in circles, sometimes joining bills.

Courting Calliope Hummingbirds

status via IUCN
Least Concern
Calliope Hummingbird populations have been slowly declining in the last several decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2 million birds with 74 percent breeding in the U.S., 25 percent in Canada, and 100 percent wintering in Mexico. They rate an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, although they are a U.S.–Canada Stewardship species. Recent winter records in the southeastern United States suggest possible range expansion of this species, perhaps associated with environmental changes caused by humans.

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