Calliope hummingbirds (Stellula calliope) are the smallest breeding birds in North America – 3 inches long and weighing less than 0.1 ounce. Greenish above, the male has a gorget (throat) with long plumes that show magenta in the proper light. The hummingbird can flare the plumes creating a “ruff” at the throat.
Calliope hummingbirds breed throughout most of the West except in the Southwest and along the Pacific Coast, generally above 4,000 feet. Wintering in Central Mexico, this little hummer follows an “oval” migration pattern. In March and April they take a route northward up the Pacific lowlands where flowers bloom early. On leaving their breeding grounds, calliope hummingbirds migrate south on an inland route along mountain ranges where later blooming flowers are abundant.
Calliope hummingbirds can be found in alpine meadows and subalpine forest clearings, especially near wooded streams. Leonard and I discovered this Calliope hummingbird (our first) sitting atop a snag along a logging road off of Modoc County (CA) Road 94 west of Lookout. Calliope hummingbirds often sit on a dead branch watching for insects, which they then “hawk” or eat in flight, before returning to their perch to watch for another meal.
The genus name, Stellula, means little star in Latin. The species designation refers to Calliope, the Muse of Poetry in Greek mythology. I particularly like this bird and its scientific name because Leonard and I, who bred and raced Thoroughbreds, had a very good racehorse named Kalliope Star.