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Calliope Hummingbird

( Stellula calliope )

This smallest of all birds found in the United States is a late summer visitor here in Southern Arizona. Its genus name, Stellula, comes from the Latin for a little star. Its species name, calliope, is also from Latin and means pleasant or beautiful of voice. Calliope was also the name of one of the muses.

The male can be distinguished from all other hummers by its small size, only 2-3/4 to 3 inches long, with a wingspread of about 4-1/4 inches. He a wears a gorget like no other hummingbird. His purple-violet feathers on its throat form rays that when raised up resemble whiskers. Every other hummer seen here has a solid colored gorget. He is metallic green above and white below, with a straight, black, needlelike bill and a short tail. The female is green above and white below, lacks the purple-red feathers of the male gorget, but she does have a speckled throat. In the field, she is difficult to tell from the female Rufous hummingbird, but she is decidedly smaller, and has less rust colored feathers on her rump.

The Calliope is most often seen in high country. It has been sighted at 11,000 feet in the Sierras, feeding on Penstemon flowers. It likes to nest on the edges of mountain meadows ringed by conifers or in canyons and aspen thickets along mountain streams. High canyons with running creeks in the Catalina, Rincon, Huachuca, Santa Rita, and Chiricahua Mountains are good places to look for it.

One of the most amazing reports regarding the Calliope is that it was observed lifting its own weight. In 1971, a male calliope hummingbird was seen to fly down to a stunned female that had struck a window. He hovered for a moment, and then lifted the female by her beak to a height of about 3 feet in the air before he lost his grip, so to speak, and she fell to the ground. He did this over and over, but finally retired to a perch in a nearby shrub. The observer then warmed the female in his hand, and you’ll be glad to know that she did recover and fly off. Even a golden eagle could not lift half its weight in tests performed in captivity!


Calliope Hummingbird Range

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Citation:
InfoNatura: Animals and Ecosystems of Latin America [web application]. 2007. Version 5.0 . Arlington, Virginia (USA): NatureServe. Available: http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura. (Accessed: February 12, 2013 ).

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