Black-breasted Puffleg Eriocnemis nigrivestis


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a very small range, being known with certainty only from two locations. Its small subpopulations are suspected to suffer ongoing declines owing to deforestation within a severely fragmented habitat and increasing impacts of climate change. Consequently it qualifies as Critically Endangered.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 210-268 individuals, roughly equating to 140-180 mature individuals.

Trend justification
This species is suspected to have suffered ongoing declines at a rate of 10-19% over ten years, owing to widespread and continuing habitat loss within its range. On the northwest flanks of Volcán Pichincha, deforestation rates for high-Andean montane forest accelerated in recent years (Santander et al. 2004). In the period 1996-2006, an estimated 7.5% of the forest cover was lost, extrapolated from the period 1996-2001 (Santander et al. 2004, O. Jahn in litt. 2007). In Esmeraldas, 4% of the remnant high-Andean montane forest were cut in the last decade (Cárdenas 2007). Deforestation was probably much more severe on the slopes above the Intag valley, which are outside the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve and geopolitically belong to Imbabura (O. Jahn in litt. 2007). In the future climate change may play a role in further stressing the species and rendering remaining habitat unsuitable (Jahn and Santander 2008).

Distribution and population

This species is found seasonally on the northern and north-western ridge-crests of Volcán Pichincha, Pichincha, and in the Cordillera de Toisán above the Intág valley, Esmeraldas and Imbabura, north-west Ecuador. The large number of museum specimens (over 100) suggests it was formerly more common, but the only confirmed record between 1950 and 1993 was of three individuals in 1980. It has clearly declined and is now rare within a very limited range (Phillips 1998). On Volcán Pichincha, the area of suitable habitat where the species is known to occur has been dramatically reduced to c.34 km2, and supports an estimated 160 individuals. However, it may also occur on the unstudied western slope of the volcano where additional habitat remains. In 2006, a small population was rediscovered in the Cordillera de Toisán above the Intág valley. It may still occur on Volcán Atacazo, but the only confirmed evidence concerns three specimens from 1898, with a possible sighting in 1983. Recent searches on Atacazo resulted in one unconfirmed report (C. Devenish in litt. 2010). Searches in May-July 2013 only located single females at Cuchilla de Verdecocha and Yanacocha, with an additional (unphotographed) record of a male and female at Cascada Guagrapamba (Aves y Conservación 2013). Available records suggest that it is an altitudinal migrant, but its movements remain poorly understood and appear to have changed since it was first collected (Jahn 2008).


It inhabits humid and wet cloud forest, and especially high-Andean montane forest, including elfin forest and forest borders at 1,700-3,500 m (Jahn 2008, Jahn & Santander 2008). It is uncertain whether historical records at up to 4,700 m are due to mislabelling or whether they indicate that habitat structure and plant species composition of páramos has considerably changed over the last century (O. Jahn in litt. 2007, Jahn and Santander 2008). Black-breasted Puffleg historically seemed to be most numerous between 2,400-3,050 m from April to September and above 3,100 m from November to February during the presumed breeding season. In recent years, most records were obtained between 2,850 and 3,500 m, with dispersing immatures occurring as low as 1,700 m (Santander et al. 2004, Lyons and Santander 2006, Jahn 2008, Jahn and Santander 2008). It has recently been recorded along bushy forest edges along road sides, steep slopes with stunted vegetation and from taller montane forest interiors and clearings (Bleiweiss and Olalla 1983, Santander et al. 2004, Jahn 2008, Jahn and Santander 2008). However recent research suggests that the species may avoid forest edge habitats; areas where Black-breasted Puffleg were present were typically further from forest edge than plots where the species was absent (Guevara et al. 2015). Although it is more of a generalist than previously reported, seasonal altitudinal migrations are thought to be determined by the seasonal flowering of specific vines and species such as fuchsias and ericaceous trees (Bleiweiss and Olalla 1983). It prefers Palicourea huigrensis flowers (Heynen et al. 2015). It has been recorded using 29 different species of food-plants, thus it is not believed to be restricted in range owing to dietary constraints (Santander et al. 2004, Jahn 2008, Jahn and Santander 2008, Guevara et al. 2015). Eight of the 29 species belong to the Ericaceae family (Guevara et al. 2015). 


The main threat is the felling of forest for timber and charcoal, facilitating the introduction of cattle and the eventual spread of the agricultural frontier for ranching and to a lesser extent production of crops (Phillips 1998, Santander et al. 2004, Jahn 2008). In Canton Cotacachi, Imbabura, 45% of households still use firewood and charcoal for cooking and heating, contributing to the destruction of key habitat (Jahn and Santander 2008). The situation is similar on the west slope of Volcán Pichincha, where some families still produce charcoal for auto-consumption and commercialisation in Quito (Jahn & Santander 2008). Suitable habitat on ridge-crests is disappearing more rapidly than surrounding vegetation, because the crests provide flat ground for cultivating potatoes and livestock-grazing within otherwise steep terrain (Bleiweiss and Olalla 1983). The Toisán population is threatened by rapid deforestation on the south-west slope of the cordillera, copper mining concessions, and invasions of landless farmers within the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve (Jahn 2008, Jahn and Santander 2008). Some ridges where it formerly occurred are now almost completely devoid of natural vegetation, and even if it still occurs in these areas it is unlikely to be numerous.

Around 93 % of the suitable habitat within its probable historic range has been degraded or destroyed (Williams and Santander 2003), with 97 % lost in Pinchincha Province (Santander et al. 2004). Human-induced fires threaten large tracts of forest during the dry season (Jahn 2008). The construction of a pipeline at Cerro Chiquilipe led to habitat destruction for the pipeline itself, an access road and a depressurisation station despite the known presence of the hummingbird (Santander et al. 2004). Volcán Pichincha has sporadically erupted since 1999, and ash-fall in the area has been considerable. The impacts of this on the species and its habitat are unknown. Climate change in the future may push the climate zone for this species above the current treeline (Jahn 2008), and could lead to increased competition with Gorgeted Sunangel Heliangelus strophianus as that species expands its altitudinal range (Jahn 2008, Guevara 2013). However, the current treeline is thought to be lower than it was historically owing to centuries of anthropogenic stresses (particularly fire) causing the gradual loss and fragmentation of high altitude forest (Jahn 2008).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Media coverage of research on the species and threats to its habitat has encouraged the authorities to control access and forbid charcoal production at Yanacocha (Phillips 1998). The species was designated the 'emblematic bird of Quito' in 2005. The area was subsequently purchased by the Jocotoco Foundation and protects c. 1,000 ha of key habitat for the species. An additional 26 ha has been purchased adjacent to the reserve for reforestation (of native cloudforest) for a carbon offsetting scheme by Bird Holidays, a birdwatching tour company (Anon. 2006). The neighbouring private reserve Hacienda Verdecocha protects an additional 1,200 ha of optimal habitat. A large part of the unexplored primary forest of Volcán Pichincha's western slopes are protected by Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo reserve (Jahn 2008). Western slopes of the Cordillera de Toisán are protected within the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve (Jahn 2008). A Species Action Plan was developed in 2007 and published in 2008 (Jahn & Santander 2008), with a Spanish translation completed by 2012 (Aves y Conservación 2012).

The Species Guardian, Aves & Conservación, have carried out capacity building activities for nature and community tourism in the Alaspungo community since 2008 (Aves & Conservación in litt. 2009, 2010, Aves y Conservación 2012) including training of community-based guides. Other actions so far have included a community and stakeholder outreach programme in Pichincha province, the formation of a Local Conservation Group, production and distribution of environmental education materials, reforestation activities on cattle pastures and other degraded lands on the Hacienda Verdecocha and Yanacocha Reserves and initiation of a standardised bird monitoring programme. Plans to designate the Alaspungo Community Forest as a protected area evolved into the creation of a larger 8,000 ha municipal protected area (Nono-Pichán-Alambi Conservation and Sustainable Use Area), including the Community Forest. The resulting plan was being reviewed by the municipality in 2012, and once approved will pave the way for the formal creation of the reserve (Aves y Conservación 2012). Monitoring along set transects at the Community Forest was scheduled to be initiated in August 2013. In May 2013 Aves y Conservación initiated a project aiming to document the ecological requirements of the species at landscape and microhabitat level.

Conservation Actions Proposed

Expand awareness campaigns to other areas, particularly the Íntag valley and the Volcán Atacazo (Jahn & Santander 2008). Implement recently-developed management plans to improve protection of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve and the Protective Forest Mindo-Nambillo through law enforcement against illegal logging, hunting, and colonisation inside the reserves, and sustainable management projects in their buffer zones (Jahn and Santander 2008). Survey unexplored forest tracts, particularly the western slope of Volcán Pichincha, Volcán Atacazo and the main massif of the Toisán (T. Züchner in litt. 1999, Santander et al. 2004, Jahn & Santander 2008). Identify key sites for new community and private reserves (Jahn and Santander 2008). Lobby for legislation prohibiting mining in the Cordillera de Toisán (Jahn and Santander 2008). Provide local people with alternative incomes that do not damage the species's habitat (Santander et al. 2004, Jahnand& Santander 2008), and develop and implement an endowment fund strategy for conservation easements (Jahn & Santander 2008). Continue to reforest degraded lands and re-establish biological corridors to guarantee connectivity between remnant forest fragments and continuous habitat (Santander et al. 2004, Jahn and Santander 2008), ensuring forest tract connectivity between the altitudinal extremes of the range (Guevara 2013). Pre-emptively restore native woody vegetation in at least 30% of grass páramo within the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, Volcán Pichincha, and Volcán Atacazo over the next 25 years in anticipation of future climate change (Jahn 2008, Jahn & Santander 2008). Monitor changes in habitat on a five-yearly basis (Jahn and Santander 2008). Carry out studies on feeder-transmitted diseases (Jahn and Santander 2008). Research minimum forest patch size required by the species and use remote sensing to identify suitable habitat corridors that should be protected (Guevara et al. 2015). Investigate habitat requirements during the breeding season. Implement further research to assess the impact of competition with Gorgeted Sunangel (Heliangelus strophianus) (Guevara et al. 2015).


8-9 cm. Rather small but, in male, distinctively plumaged puffleg. Male has entirely blackish upperparts, dark blue uppertail-coverts and blackish underparts, with violet-blue throat and undertail-coverts. Dark steel-blue tail is forked. White leg-puffs. Female shining bronze-green above, becoming bluish-green on rump and uppertail-coverts. Golden-green underparts with pale blue chin, but tail, undertail-coverts and leg-puffs as male. Both sexes have straight black bill. Similar spp. Male unconfusable, but female resembles Glowing Puffleg E. vestitus, but is less cinnamon below, more bluish uppertail-coverts that glitter less strongly, and belly has more extensive whitish fringes. Voice Mostly silent, but sometimes gives a weak tzeet tzeet after taking flight.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Capper, D., Isherwood, I., Jahn, O., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Ashpole, J

Jahn, O. & Züchner, T.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Eriocnemis nigrivestis. Downloaded from on 30/05/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 30/05/2020.