Ecuador’s Endemic Black-breasted Puffleg

Endemic to Ecuador, the Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis), is a species of hummingbird found only on Pichincha volcano’s northwestern slopes. This tiny bird is listed with IUCN as ‘critically endangered’, with its continued existence threatened by habitat destruction. Fortunately, conservationists are aware of the plight of the Black-breasted Puffleg, and this has been brought to the attention of Ecuador’s authorities. In 2005 Quito adopted the Black-breasted Puffleg as its official emblem, and in 2010, in response to extensive petitioning by the Center for Biological Diversity, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed Black-breasted Puffleg as endangered, thereby restricting the buying and selling of the bird and putting it in line for increased attention and conservation funding.

As its name would suggest, the Black-breasted Puffleg’s most distinguishing features are its black chest feathers and white plumed legs. The male’s upperparts are entirely black, with blackish underparts and dark blue uppertail coverts. It has violet-blue iridescent throat feathers and undertail coverts, with its forked tail being steel-blue. Apart from the fact that both sexes have straight black bills and white plumed legs, the female of the species is quite different from the male, being bronze green above, blending to bluish-green on her rump and uppertail coverts. She has golden-green underparts and a pale blue chin. Both sexes are not very verbal, sometimes making a tzeet tzeet sound when taking flight.

With more than 100 specimens of Black-breasted Pufflegs in various museums, it appears that the little hummingbird was much more common at one time. Today the species occurs in a restricted area of around 34 square kilometers, with its population thought to be only around 160 mature individual birds. In recent years the rate of deforestation on the northwestern flanks of Pichincha volcano has increased, particularly on the slopes above the Intag valley. This area falls outside the boundaries of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve within the Imbabura region.

Various conservation groups, including the Jocotoco Foundation, are involved in the protection and reforestation of critical habitats in Ecuador, including the area that is home to the last remaining population of Black-breasted Pufflegs. When traveling in Ecuador, you may want to consider supporting these groups and their conservation efforts.