Calliope Hummingbird 1600 ab BINNS D64A7977 copy

Calliope Hummingbird – 5th PA record

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Oct 27, 2020 | by Adrian Binns

Hummingbirds are unique and fascinating birds – tiny, fiesty, and super-fast. Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, birders mainly enjoy just one species – Ruby-throated Hummingbird – which zips around colorful flowers and sips sugar-water from nectar feeders throughout the spring and summer months. By early autumn, ruby-throats have disappeared, journeying south to warmer climates. Wise birders keep their nectar feeders fresh through the fall, hoping to attract a Rufous or any other vagrant western hummingbird.

Calliope Hummingbird – hatch-year male with flecks just appearing on throat.

One homeowner in York County, PA, heeded advice to keep nectar feeders filled, though she hadn’t seen a Ruby-throated in at least six weeks. On October 23, she noticed an odd-looking hummingbird at her feeder, and shared photos with friends. Soon she realized it was a Calliope Hummingbird, quite rare and unexpected!  On October 26, a licensed Pennsylvania bander came out to band the bird, which readily cooperated. From that we learned it was a hatch-year male, weighing 3.1 grams – roughly the weight of a half-sheet of paper, or 3 stamps. Field marks reflect a stocky, 3″ bird, with short straight bill, and long wings that reach the end of it’s short tail, giving it a compact look.

Calliope Hummingbird – featuring buffy flanks of an immature bird

It’s amazing to think that such a tiny bird can find it’s way to the mid-Atlantic. Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird species in the U.S., and believed to be the smallest-bodied, long distance migrant in the world. They travel about 5,000 miles round-trip each year, from breeding to non-breeding grounds. They are a bird of western North America, migrating through the southwest to overwinter in Central America.

Calliope Hummingbird – smallest bird species in the U.S.

This young male Calliope in York County is just the 5th known record in Pennsylvania. The first accepted state record was of a bird observed November 26-28, 2002, in Merion. Ten years later, in early November 2012, many observers were able to see one in Devon, Chester County. A month later, December 2012, a Calliope was seen by many in Lancaster. On Halloween 2016, a couple photographed a Calliope at their West Norriton residence, but it didn’t stay for others to see. All records occurred in the eastern half of the state.

Calliope Hummingbird – adult male in Arizona, late July

The above photo is of an adult male Calliope Hummingbird I photographed in Arizona one summer; the striking magenta-colored gorget (throat) with elongated feathers is a remarkable difference from the spotty throat and buffy sides of the hatch-year bird.

The scientific name of Calliope Hummingbird is  Selasphorus calliope  Sela meaning bright, flame, and phoros meaning bearing, in recognition of the brilliantly-colored gorget shown in adult males of the genus. Calliope is the Greek muse who presides over eloquence and epic poetry with a beautiful voice. This species name is a bit enigmatic, as the bird’s chip call actually sounds course, hardly poetic, but the bird is indeed beautiful.

It was a treat to watch this Calliope Hummingbird in York County hungrily drinking nectar, flitting from nearby Serviceberry and Maple trees. I extend many thanks and appreciation to the homeowner for allowing me to photograph the bird.

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