Flitting through the mist in Ecuador’s high Andean forests, the Black-breasted Puffleg is running out of habitat. A forest restoration programme offers hope, working with local people to plant the species’ favourite flowers.
When it comes to birdwatching, Ecuador is a lucky country. Although it occupies only 0.2% of the earth's surface, it houses around 130 species of hummingbird – that is, more than 35% of all the world's hummingbirds. Some are found nowhere else on the planet, including the Black-breasted Puffleg Eriocnemis nigrivestis. This Critically Endangered endemic lives 3,200 – 3,400 metres above sea level, amid the cold mist and drizzle of the high Andean forests. Its unique name comes from the white feathers that adorn its legs, similar to the rustic trousers worn by local people. This glossy, iridescent bird is truly miniscule, measuring 9cm at most.
The species is so iconic that in June 2005, it was declared the Emblematic Bird of the Metropolitan District of Quito (the capital city of Ecuador). The founding member of Aves y Conservación (BirdLife in Ecuador), Juan Manuel Carrión, strongly advocated for this recognition during his time as City Councillor. His intention was: “To make the species visible, to attract attention in a symbolic way and for the city to have a natural emblem embodied in a bird; as well as encouraging municipal participation in efforts to preserve it”.
This bird needs all the recognition it can get. Its population is estimated not to exceed 1000 individuals, spread across just two sites. One spans the northwestern slope of the Pichincha Volcano. The other was rediscovered in 2006 by the ornithologist Olaf Jahn in the Toisán Range, Imbabura province.