The Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) is a very small hummingbird native to the United States and Canada and, during winter, Central America. It was previously considered the only member of the genus Stellula, however recent evidence suggests placement in the genus Selasphorus. This bird was named after the Greek muse Calliope. The genus name means "little star".
This is the smallest breeding bird found in Canada and the United States. The only smaller species ever found in the U.S. is the Bumblebee Hummingbird, an accidental vagrant from Mexico. An adult Calliope Hummingbird can measure 7–10 cm (2.8–3.9 in) in length, span 11 cm (4.3 in) across the wings and weigh 2 to 3 g (0.071 to 0.11 oz). These birds have glossy green on the back and crown with white underparts. Their bill and tail are relatively short. The adult male has wine-red streaks on the throat, green flanks and a dark tail. Females and immatures have a pinkish wash on the flanks, dark streaks on the throat and a dark tail with white tips. The only similar birds are the Rufous Hummingbird and the Allen's Hummingbird, but these birds are larger with more distinct and contrasting rufous markings on tail and flanks, and longer central tail feathers.
Habitat and distribution
The breeding habitat of Calliope Hummingbird is varied open shrubby habitats. Nesting usually occurs at higher altitudes in the Rocky Mountains. Nest have been observed from as low as 300 m (980 ft) in Washington elevation to the tree line at over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). In Montana, the minimum elevation they have been found breeding at is 1,200 m (3,900 ft). Open montane forest, mountain meadows, and willow and alder thickets may variously serve as breeding grounds. During migration and winter they also occur in chaparral, lowland brushy areas, deserts and semi-desert regions. They nest in western North America from southern British Columbia and Alberta south to Colorado and southern California. During spring and summer, they move, mainly through Arizona and New Mexico and northern Mexico, to winter in southwestern Mexico as well as in Guatemala and Belize.
Calliope Hummingbird is migratory bird, generally leaving their breeding grounds earlier than most birds (although not as early as the Rufous Hummingbird) to take advantage of the late-summer wildflowers in the mountains of western North America. They are believed to be the smallest-bodied long distance migrant in the world.
These birds feed on nectar from flowers using a long extendable tongue, drink sap from holes created by sapsuckers or catch insects on the wing. While collecting nectar, they also assist in plant pollination. Plants preferred for pollinating include paintbrush, penstemon, columbine, trumpet gilia, and elephant head. They will also occasionally catch and eat small insects and spiders.
Adult males usually arrive on the breeding ground before females, from mid-April to early May. The male claims and vigorously defends a nesting territory in which he will breed with many females. The male takes no part in raising the young and often actually vacates the breeding grounds by the time the young hatch. The female usually builds an open cup nest in a conifer under an overhanging branch, though apple and alder trees have also been used. The nest is often built on the base of large pine cones and somewhat resembles a pine cone itself. A nest may be used repeatedly over the course of several years. Two eggs are laid from late May to early July and are incubated for 15 to 16 days. The young are capable of flight about 20 days after hatching.
Many species of pollinators, including the Calliope Hummingbird, have shown decreases across the continent. Little information is available on the overall issues that are causing these declines but potential threats include habitat loss, increased use of pesticides, and replacement of native plants by invasive plants. The restricted wintering range of Calliope Hummingbirds makes the species more susceptible to natural disasters, diseases, or land use changes that could wipe out significant portions of the population. Despite its unique characteristics in the avian world, Calliope Hummingbird has not been well studied, leaving much of its life history unknown. In order for any conservation measures to be taken that would benefit this species, we need to better understand the biology and needs of this species. Partners in Pollination/Alianza para Polinizacion, a consortium of non-profit organizations, universities, and businesses, was formed in 1995 to increase awareness of the importance of pollinators to ecosystems, encourage research and conservation on plant/pollinator interactions, and influence policy related to plant/pollinator conservation.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Stellula calliope". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- McGuire, J.A.; Witt, C.C.; Remsen Jr., J.V.; Dudley, R.; Altshuler, D.L. (2009). "A higher-level taxonomy for hummingbirds". Journal of Ornithology 150: 155–165.
- Calliope Hummingbird, Life History, All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Allaboutbirds.org. Retrieved on 2012-08-22.
- Calliope hummingbird Info. Imnh.isu.edu. Retrieved on 2012-08-22.
- Calliope Hummingbird | National Audubon Society Birds. Birds.audubon.org (2012-05-15). Retrieved on 2012-08-22.
- Vagrant bird living in city, New Haven Register, December 6, 2006
- Hummingbird flies away from park; fans hope she’ll survive, New Haven Register, December 9, 2006
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