Saturday, August 3, 2013

Calliope Hummingbird: My Unexpected Visitor

I've been feeding hummingbirds in my Pleasant Grove, Utah yard for several summers now. I usually start seeing Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds (images provided below) arriving from Mexico around mid- to late April as a result of their spring migration. The Black-chinned remain common at lower-elevation yard feeders throughout the summer, but the Broad-tailed prefer to take up residence in the coniferous forests of our nearby mountains.

Fall is my favorite of the two hummingbird migrations through northern Utah. It begins around mid-July and lasts about six to eight weeks. I enjoy fall more because Broad-tailed and two more species of hummingbird can suddenly join the Black-chinned at yard feeders.  The most common of the two additional fall migrants is the Rufous (ruu-fuss) Hummingbird. I don't see them often in spring because they migrate, as do many other birds, in a clockwise pattern. They typically go up the west coat from Mexico toward the American northwest, western Canada, and the coast of Alaska in the spring and then down through the Rocky Mountain states in the summer (fall migration). It could be that flowers along the coast provide a great food source in the spring and the mountains are better to pass in the late summer season. Rufous are very territorial when they stake a claim on a yard feeder and often buzz or dive bomb the Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds who try to sip from "their" feeder.

The less commonly-seen hummingbird species during our summer in northern Utah is the Calliope (Ka-lie-a-pee). I usually see one a year by traveling a great distance to where one has been located by others. The Calliope is the smallest hummingbird in North America north of Mexico. It is about 3.25 inches long or anywhere from .5 to .75 inches shorter than the other hummingbirds I've mentioned. The male Calliope has a striking gorget (throat feathers) when the light hits it just right. I've positively confirmed the identity of one female Calliope so they are even more difficult to locate in my part of Utah. Perhaps their lack of a striking gorget is part of the reason they blend in with other female hummingbirds and go unidentified.

On August 1st I came home from work and was delighted to have a male Calliope at my front porch feeder. I captured some images that night and am sharing several of them now. I was sitting in a camp chair with a light between my knees trained on the feeder when I captured these images--gotta be creative and improvise sometimes. Because my perspective and the light source come from the same angle the colorful reflection from the bird's gorget is minimized in these images. The Calliope has been making appearances at my feeder for three days straight as of this post.

The long tongue is partially revealed in this image.
Male Calliope Hummingbird at Pleasant Grove, UT Feeder
Male Calliope Hummingbird at Pleasant Grove, UT Feeder
Male Calliope Hummingbird at Pleasant Grove, UT Feeder
The images below were captured last summer (2012) at a feeder in Tabiona, UT. These images allow you to see the gorget in more natural light.

Male Calliope Hummingbird in Tabiona, UT
Male Calliope Hummingbird in Tabiona, UT
If you want to have some fun experiences during spring and summer months and a talking point for visitors to your home, hang up a feeder or two. Mix one part sugar to four parts water and watch the birds come. Be sure the sugar is completely dissolved before putting it in your feeder. Sugar water can ferment in the hot sun so clean the feeder and change the water every couple of days to avoid mold and fermentation. If you heat the water to dissolve the sugar be sure to let it cool before putting it into the feeder. No one like to burn their tongue!

Images of the other hummingbird species mentioned in this post are shown below.  

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird Utah County, UT
Male Black-chinned Hummingbird St George, UT
The image below reveals a blue/purple border at the base of the gorget. It is more easily seen when in direct sunlight.
Male Black-chinned Hummingbird St George, UT
The male Broad-tailed Hummingbird below has some pollen showing at the upper base of the bill.
Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird Tabiona, UT
The Broad Tail of a Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird Utah County, UT
Female Broad-tailed Hummingbirds lack the gorget feathers of the adult male, but the rest of the plumage is similar to the male.

Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird Utah County, UT
Male Rufous Hummingbird Washington County, UT
Male Rufous Hummingbird Tabiona, UT
Male Rufous and Male Calliope Hummingbirds in Tabiona, UT
The full throat of the young male Rufous below will be completely covered in brilliant color when it becomes a full adult. What appears to be greenish lines on the throat will develop into fuller gorget feathers.

Subadult Male Rufous Hummingbird Tabiona, UT
Adult female Rufous Hummingbirds show a central spot of colored throat feathers.

Female Rufous Hummingbird Pleasant Grove, UT


  1. Beautiful images! Thank you for sharing! It is really interesting to learn more about the migration and habits of the different species. I will be watching my feeder more closely after having read your post.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Sydney. Thanks for visiting and leaving kind words. All the best to you!

  2. Wonderful shots of these birds. I love migration. It's a always a surprise at the feeders right now:)

  3. Absolutely stunning images! beautifully captured. Thank you for sharing..

  4. Your hummer images are gorgeous Jeff, and wonderfully composed.
    I recently had the pleasure of getting up into higher altitudes to see these hummers as well. What a treat!

  5. Thanks for the comments, Chris, Geet, Laurence, and Robert! Nature is awesome and filled with much to discover.

  6. I went on a hike up squaw peak, today, may 3, 2017, and saw the tiniest bird I have ever seen! I believe it was a Calliope...? Tiny, brown, hovering over a purple wild flower. It made my day!
    Thanks for the information!