Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More Front Porch Birding: Caspian to Calliope

I took a look at the nectar feeder outside my home office window when I returned from work tonight and saw my 4th individual Calliope for the season. The first showed up several weeks ago and was an adult male with his sword-like, rosy throat feathers. The second was either a juvenile or adult female. The third was a young male and tonight's bird looked like an adult female. Unfortunately, when I sat in my chair on the porch the bird decided to either go to the backyard feeder or take a break altogether. I sat with my mother in law, who is suffering with Alzheimer's Disease and staying in our home for awhile, and watched for about 30 minutes without a single visit from the Calliope. While we were waiting, however, I heard the flight call of a Caspian Tern. After scanning the sky for about five seconds I located the bird and watched it fly right over the top of our house. That Tern turned out to be the 69th species of bird I've seen since keeping track of the species seen in and from my yard. It was flying high so I had to really crop the image below to show some of the detail of the bird's markings.

First Caspian Tern Seen From My Yard in Pleasant Grove, UT

My mother in law and I decided to go in and make dinner when my wife returned home. Another glance out the window before sitting down for dinner revealed the same Calliope so I began enjoying a nice dinner with hope that more opportunities to see and possibly photograph the bird would come after dinner. Within moments of resuming my front porch birding post the Calliope returned with determination to get through the Black-chinned and Rufous Hummingbirds scuffling over the feeder. I used a flashlight to provide some additional lighting since the natural light was fading quickly. The posture below is typical for the Calliope at the feeder--somewhat squared tail held slightly and rather steadily in an upward curve. The similar looking young Rufous Hummingbirds tend to hold their tails so they taper to a point and show more of a sharp upward angle from the rump.

Calliope Hummingbird Pleasant Grove, UT

The dark on the bill in the image below is a shadow being cast by the feeder. My light was at an angle that caused the shadow.

Calliope Hummingbird Pleasant Grove, UT

I captured some shots of a juvenile Rufous Hummingbird to show the differences between a young Rufous and the Calliope. I thought it might be helpful since some of my friends and readers were sending images and sharing sightings hoping they were seeing a Calliope at their feeders. I'm sharing some side by side shots below that I hope allow the differences to be explained and seen. The Rufous is on the left and the Calliope is on the right.

The Rufous shows more of a rufous color on the outer tail feathers and the tail comes to a point. The Calliope shows more green and black on the outer tail feathers and the tail does not come to a point but rather appears somewhat squared when not fanned. The Rufous shows more dark between the eye and the upper mandible (bill) where the Calliope shows a thin black line between the white in front of the eye and at the base of the upper mandible. Rufous Hummingbirds also show more of an obvious white chest between the throat and the color on the sides where Calliope lack this contrast. The vertical lines on the throat formed by greenish feathers are finer and flow more toward the side of the neck on the Calliope than the Rufous. These lines of feathers are thicker as they terminate at the base of the throat on the Rufous. Another typical behavior with Calliope's at a feeder is they rarely perch and feed because they are shorter with a shorter bill. Consequently, they generally hover at the feeder in order to get their bills as deeply as possible into the feeder where the Rufous will perch and still be able to reach deep enough into the feeder to get the sugar water. Finally, the Calliope wing extends beyond the tip of the tail. Although the Calliope's wings are in mid flight, you can see that the tips do extend beyond the length of the tail.

Here is another image to show a closer view of tonight's Calliope.

Finally, I captured a couple images of a young male and an adult male Black-chinned Hummingbird for a quick comparison as well. The young male is starting to show some of its dark throat feathers as well as darkening between the eye and the bill.

Here is the image of the adult from tonight in bad lighting.

Finally, here is an image to illustrate what this young male will look when it is in complete adult plumage.


  1. The explanations of the differences should be very helpful to those trying to differentiate between the species - wish I was, but no hummingbirds in Australia!

    1. I don't think I ever heard that Australia has no hummingbirds. I've been to Australia about five times, but all were business trips prior to becoming a birder and having decent photography equipment. Thanks for commenting, Happy Wanderer!