The Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) is the smallest breeding bird in the United States, yet they're considered to be the tiniest, long distance migrating bird in the world! Their migration route may take them over 5,000 miles each year!
What's even more amazing is their metabolic rate increases over 16 times when they're hovering, and they're smaller than my thumb! What's really cool is they nest each summer right here in the Wind River Canyon, where I get to try photographing these "little jewels."
The Calliope had a previous scientific name of Stellula calliope and can still be "Googled" by that name alone; Stella means "little star." In Ancient Greek, Calliope means "beautiful-voiced" and was the muse of eloquence and epic-poetry. The Greek philosopher Ovid refers to her as the "Chief of all Muses" and she was believed to be Homer's muse for the Odyssey and the Iliad.
These amazing little hummingbirds are actually quite territorial; I've seen them chase off Robins, Magpies and even Chipmunks. Yet I've been so close to a male Calliope that we almost touched "noses." That beautiful reddish-magenta gorget (a piece of armor protecting the throat) can be flared in a mating display that is truly epic. Hummingbirds are crazy difficult to photograph, and that's no exaggeration, but, Calliope hummingbirds are one of four species we observe in the Wind River Canyon, and they are not the most aggressive; that title belongs to the Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). Their population is estimated to be 4.5 million birds, which sounds like a lot but isn't. All of them winter in southwest Mexico in the pine forests of the mountains, while I sit and watch it snow!
The hummingbird-portrait photograph on the left is a female Calliope in-flight. It was accomplished by manually focusing on a spot she comes and goes from a nectar feeder, then shooting away. A camera with a good "burst-rate" is a must, but be forewarned, in fifteen years of digitally doing this, it's the best picture of a female Calliope I've got! She has better things to do than pose for me.
It's September 2nd and all the hummingbirds have left the Wind River Canyon, except for a few young birds migrating through. I always feel a little "let down" when they leave for their long trip south, but I know that they will be back next Spring, to nest and breed in the magical Wind River Canyon.
Wind River Canyon Blog and all it's contents and photographs are protected by international copyright laws....which don't really mean much anyway.
All photographs and writing by Michael John Balog, Wind River Canyon, Wyoming.