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Hummingbirds: Dazzling Gorget Display

Find out how much you know about hummingbirds in these three bird profiles on the Anna’s Hummingbird, Costa’s Hummingbird and Calliope Hummingbird.

Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna): As only one of two "helmeted” hummingbirds in North America, the whole head and throat of adult male Anna’s Hummingbird shows extreme rose color when light hits it just right. Neatly arranged in rows, these colorful feathers seem metallic in nature.

Separate from the rest of the body feathers, the gorget feathers’ edges extend away from the body when the bird is displaying. The gorget’s lower border is fairly uniform in shape, with the isolated, longer, round-tipped side gorget feathers extending in a dramatic fashion. The crown also reflects light, creating the helmeted look.

Anna’s is a small to medium-sized hummer (3.5 to 4 inches long) with a relatively stocky body structure and proportionally large head with a straight, medium-length bill and a distinct white postocular (behind the eye) spot. A male’s wingtips fall short of its moderately long, forked tail when at rest.

 Upperparts appear greenish/gold to bluish/green in color, and underparts are mottled dusky with spots of glittering green. Undertail coverts look greenish and mottled dark in color.

 Anna’s Hummingbird breeds and is mostly resident from southwest British Columbia to northwest Baja California and east to southern Arizona. Small numbers breed eastward to west Texas. Nesting occurs from December through June, with earlier dates occurring in more southern areas.

Late-summer movements to higher elevations take advantage of peak flowering dates. The winter range includes milder areas of its range, especially near Pacific coastal areas. This breeding male Anna’s Hummingbird was photographed February in Imperial Beach, Calif. 

Costa's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird

Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costae): This second member of North America’s "helmeted hummingbird” club shares Anna’s relatively stocky, large-headed look, but is substantially smaller (3 to 3.4 inches long) with a shorter tail. Males of this group have cleft tails, while females have slightly double-rounded tails.

This jeweled hummer displays a brilliant violet-blue color on its throat and head when light hits them just right, but this brilliant color resorts to a dull black when not lit. The top of the bird’s head shows the variation from vibrant color to dull black.

Unmistakable field marks for male Costa’s Hummingbird include the brilliant violet-blue helmet and the gorget and elongated gorget "tails.” On either side of the uniform lower border of its gorget are decorative, ornamental tails, which extend dramatically.

This small desert hummer will stop you in your tracks when the light hits it just right. The gradation of blue and purple colors blend into a violet hue in some places, and the white postocular spot accentuates the striking visual appearance.

Costa’s differs from Anna’s by having these longer gorget tails, a violet-blue color to its helmet and a noticeably shorter tail. Costa’s Hummingbird has a small, stocky body structure because of its short tail and chunky body.

A white forecollar appears below and under its gorget, and the underparts look mostly mottled dusky with dull glittering green highlights. A variable white stripe extends down the central breast to a puffy white vent band.

Undertail coverts are whitish with variable bronze-green centers. Because of its short tail, male Costa’s wingtips extend about the same length as the tail, unlike Anna’s, whose wings fall noticeably short of the tail.

Costa’s Hummingbird breeds mainly in fairly open arid desert scrub in the southwestern United States and Baja California. It is a breeding resident (late January to June) in Southern California and southwestern Arizona as well as locally north to Central California (March to July), southern Nevada and southwestern Utah. It also breeds east to extreme southwest New Mexico.

Seasonal movements of Costa’s Hummingbird are complex, with some birds present in Southern California year-round. This male Costa’s Hummingbird was photographed in February in Chula Vista, California.

Calliope Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird (Stellula calliope): This small hummer of western mountains (3 to 3.2 inches) is the only member of this genus in North America. Characterized by its very small size, relatively short tail and short bill, it is the smallest breeding bird in North America, weighing less than a penny.

Male Calliope Hummingbird has a pale face and unique gorget of individual wine-red streaks over a white background. The longer side streaks of its gorget extend down at the corners. This unique gorget is one reason that this species traditionally is placed in its own genus. The male’s short tail has unique spade-shaped central tail feathers that widen from a narrow base before tapering to a point. Its broad, blunt and curved wingtips typically extend to or just past its very short tail. The male appears bright green above and creamy white below, with a green wash to its sides and flanks. The dull grayish face has darker central cheeks and a straight and short bill. A vent stripe is white, and the undertail coverts look creamy in color.

Adult male Calliope is such a distinctive hummer that very few species resemble it even remotely. A male Lucifer Hummingbird has long, thin gorget tails but differs by having a green crown and long, decurved bill.

Calliope Hummingbird breeds as a summer resident in western mountains from Southern California north to British Columbia and east to western Alberta, western Wyoming and central Utah. Its traditional winter range is western Mexico, but increasing numbers turn up in southeastern United States, mainly along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida. This male Calliope Hummingbird was photographed in July in British Columbia.


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Posted: June 6, 2013, 12:45 p.m. PDT

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Hummingbirds: Dazzling Gorget Display

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