In this study, the hybrid particle swarm optimization (HPSO) algorithm was proposed and practised for the calibration of two conceptual rainfall–runoff models (dynamic water balance model and abcde). The performance of the developed method was compared with those of several metaheuristics. The models were calibrated for three sub-basins, and multiple performance criteria were taken into consideration in comparison. The results indicated that HPSO was derived significantly better and more consistent results than other algorithms with respect to hydrological model errors and convergence speed. A variance decomposition-based method – analysis of variance (ANOVA) – was also used to quantify the dynamic sensitivity of HPSO parameters. Accordingly, the individual and interactive uncertainties of the parameters defined in the HPSO are relatively low.