The Black-breasted Pufflegs (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) are rare and critically endangered South American hummingbirds that have a very limited range in northwestern Ecuador. Their continued existence is at risk due to their severely fragmented habitat and increasing impacts of climate change. The Black-breasted Pufflegs heavily rely on stunted ridge-top vegetation.
On June 23, 2005, the Black-breasted Puffleg was adopted as the Emblem of the city of Quito, which is located on the eastern slopes of the Pichincha Volcano in the Andes Mountains - near the location where this species historically occurred.
Alternate (Global) Names
Spanish: Calzadito Pechinegro, Colibrí Pantalón de Pecho Negro, Zamarrito pichinegro ... French: Érione à robe noire ... Italian: Colibrì zampepiumose pettonero, Fiocchetto pettonero ... German: Schwarzbauch-Höschenkolibri, Schwarzbrust-Schneehöschen ... Czech: Kolibrík tmavý, kolib?ík tmavý ... Danish: Pichinchakvastben ... Finnish: Quitonsukkakolibri ... Japanese: munagurowataashihachidori ... Dutch: Zwartborstpluimbroekje, Zwartborst-pluimbroekje ... Norwegian: Svartbrystdunfot ... Polish: puchatek czarnopiersny, puchatek czarnopier?ny ... Slovak: pancuchárik ciernoprsý ... Swedish: Pichinchatofsbena
Distribution / Range
The Black-breasted Pufflegs are endemic to northwestern Ecuador, where they are very rare with only localized populations.
Their range is mostly limited to the adjacent Volcanoes Pichincha and Atacazo located less than 12.5 miles (~ 20 km) west of Quito. Records of this species exist from Frutillas, the Yanacocha Reserve, Cerro Alaspungo and Cerro Pugsi, on the west slope of Pichincha.
On 12th January 2000, Dr. Rob Williams of Biosphere Consultants and Tatiana Santander of CECIA surveyed the breeding areas for the Black-breasted Puffleg and found at that time that this species only occurred on the north slope of Volcano Pichincha west of Quito, Ecuador.
In 2006, a small population was rediscovered in the Cordillera de Toisán above the Intág valley, Esmeraldas (coastal city) and the Imbabura volcano in northern Ecuador.
It is a seasonal altitudinal migrant in response to the seasonal flowering of its favored feeding plants, such as vines, fuchsias and ericaceous trees.
In response to the construction of the OCP (Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados) oil pipeline (at that time proposed) in Ecuador through this endangered hummingbird's already limited habitat (on a ridge called Cruz Loma), Dr. Nigel Collar of BirdLife International, pointed out that the proposed pipeline would destroy much of the remaining vegetation and likely lead to the extinction of this species at that site. He commented in 2001:
"This beautiful, tiny hummingbird [ ... ] is so rare that nothing must be allowed to put it at further risk ... it is thought to have a range of less than 80 km2 [31 sq. miles] and a population under 250 individuals."
The black-breasted Pufflegs inhabit humid and wet cloud forests, but favor high-Andean montane forests, including elfin forests (forests with stunted trees growing at high altitude) and bushy forest edges. They are also found on steep slopes with stunted vegetation and in taller montane forest interiors and clearings.
From April to September, they appear to remain at elevations from 9,300 - 11,500 ft (~2,850 and 3,500 m). During the breeding season, between November to February, they typically remain above 10,200 ft (3,100 m).
The Black-breasted Puffleg is an average-sized hummingbird measuring between 3.1 - 3.5 inches (8 - 9 cm) in length - including its bill and tail.
This species was named for the snow-white dense feathering around the legs known as "leg puffs" (which are not always visible). These leg puffs are unique to the pufflegs and have been described as resembling "woolly panties" or "little cotton balls" above the legs. Both males and females have straight, black bills and distinctive small white eye spots.
Adult males have an entirely black upper plumage, a mostly black under plumage and dark, steel-blue forked tails. Their throat is an iridescent violet-blue.
Adult females have a shiny, bronze-green upper plumage, turning blue-green toward the rump and upper tail. Her under plumage is golden-green. Her chin is pale blue. Her tail, under tail feathers and leg puffs are identical to the male's.
Similar Species: There is no other species of hummingbird that resemble the males of this species; however, the female could be confused with the Glowing Puffleg, but she is less cinnamon-colored below, has more bluish uppertail-feathers that are less glossy; and her abdomen has more extensive whitish fringes.
Calls / Vocalizations
Like most hummingbirds, they are mostly silent. Their occasional calls (often given after taking flight) are described as a monotonous repeated metallic "tseet tseet tseet".
Nesting / Breeding
Hummingbirds are solitary in all aspects of life other than breeding; and the male's only involvement in the reproductive process is the actual mating with the female. They neither live nor migrate in flocks; and there is no pair bond for this species. Males court females by flying in a u-shaped pattern in front of them. He will separate from the female immediately after copulation. One male may mate with several females. In all likelihood, the female will also mate with several males. The males do not participate in choosing the nest location, building the nest or raising the chicks.
The female Black-breasted Puffleg is responsible for building the cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers woven together and green moss on the outside for camouflage in a protected location in a shrub, bush or tree. She lines the nest with soft plant fibers, animal hair and feather down, and strengthens the structure with spider webbing and other sticky material, giving it an elastic quality to allow it to stretch to double its size as the chicks grow and need more room. The nest is typically found on a low, thin horizontal branch.
The average clutch consists of two white eggs, which she incubates alone, while the male defends his territory and the flowers he feeds on. The young are born blind, immobile and without any down.
The female alone protects and feeds the chicks with regurgitated food (mostly partially-digested insects since nectar is an insufficient source of protein for the growing chicks). The female pushes the food down the chicks' throats with her long bill directly into their stomachs.
As is the case with other hummingbird species, the chicks are brooded only the first week or two, and left alone even on cooler nights after about 12 days - probably due to the small nest size. The chicks leave the nest when they are about 20 days old.
Diet / Feeding
The Black-breasted Pufflegs primarily feed on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs and epiphytes; their favorites being some species of vines, fuchsias and ericaceous trees. They favor flowers with the highest sugar content (often red-colored and tubular-shaped) and seek out, and aggressively protect, those areas containing flowers with high energy nectar.They use their long, extendible, straw-like tongues to retrieve the nectar while hovering with their tails cocked upward as they are licking at the nectar up to 13 times per second. Sometimes they may be seen hanging on the flower while feeding.
Many native and cultivated plants on whose flowers these birds feed heavily rely on them for pollination. The mostly tubular-shaped flowers actually exclude most bees and butterflies from feeding on them and, subsequently, from pollinating the plants.
They also take some small spiders and insects - important sources of protein particularly needed during the breeding season to ensure the proper development of their young. Insects are often caught in flight (hawking); snatched off leaves or branches, or are taken from spider webs. A nesting female can capture up to 2,000 insects a day.
Males establish feeding territories, where they aggressively chase away other males as well as large insects - such as bumblebees and hawk moths - that want to feed in their territory. They use aerial flights and intimidating displays to defend their territories.
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