The Emerald-bellied Puffleg (Eriocnemis aline) is a species of hummingbird found exclusively in Ecuador. With its vibrant emerald belly and puffy white leg feathers, the Emerald-bellied Puffleg is one of the most striking and beautiful hummingbirds in the world.
The Emerald-bellied Puffleg averages around 10-11 cm in length and weighs between 5-7 grams. The male has an iridescent emerald green throat and belly, with a bright metallic green crown and back. The female is similar but has slightly duller plumage overall. Both sexes have distinctive puffy white feathers covering their legs, giving rise to their common name. The long, slender bill is black, adapted for reaching nectar deep within flowers.
Range and Habitat
This species is endemic to a small region of southwest Ecuador, with an extent of occurrence estimated at just 550 km2. Its natural habitats are humid montane forest and elfin forest at elevations between 2500-3300 meters. It occupies both pristine forest and secondary growth and forest edges, but appears unable to persist in heavily degraded habitat.
Like all hummingbirds, the Emerald-bellied Puffleg feeds on flower nectar and tiny insects. Its long, specialized bill allows it to access nectar from flowers with deep corollas. Some of its favorite food plants include species from the Rubiaceae, Ericaceae, and Gesneriaceae families. The species plays an important role in pollinating these high Andean plants. Insects provide essential proteins and nutrients to supplement its sugary diet.
The breeding season for the Emerald-bellied Puffleg runs from March to August. Males perform elaborate courtship displays, flying in u-shaped patterns to impress females. The tiny cup-shaped nest is constructed using plant down and fibers on a low branch or tree fern. The female lays just two tiny white eggs, which she incubates alone for 15-19 days. The chicks fledge in about 20-28 days.
The Emerald-bellied Puffleg is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, with an estimated global population of only 250-999 individuals. Its small range and dependence on fragile mountain forest habitats make it highly vulnerable to extinction. The primary threats are habitat loss due to deforestation, agriculture, and human settlement. Climate change may also shift and reduce its required cloud forest habitat. Conservation efforts focus on protecting remaining old-growth forest blocks. Ecotourism may help provide incentives to preserve forests for this and other rare species.
Fun Facts about the Emerald-bellied Puffleg
– Its scientific name Eriocnemis aline honors Jean d’Alines, a French botanist who traveled South America in the 19th century collecting plant specimens.
– Among hummingbirds, puffleg species are the only ones to have distinctive “puffy pants” – dense tufts of feathers covering their legs. The function of this unusual feature remains a mystery.
– Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of any homeothermic animal. To conserve energy, they can enter a hibernation-like state called torpor.
– Relative to its size, the Emerald-bellied Puffleg has one of the smallest known distributions of any bird in the Americas.
– Hummingbird flight is extremely energetically demanding. Their hearts may beat up to 1,260 times per minute while flying.
– Hummingbirds are the only group of birds able to fly backwards. This maneuverability helps them efficiently access flower nectar.
– Unusually among hummingbirds, the Emerald-bellied Puffleg lacks significant sexual dimorphism in size. Females average only about 4% smaller than males.
– Hummingbirds have astounding visual acuity and color vision unmatched by any other land vertebrate. These adaptations help them locate flowers and evade predators.
– Male Emerald-bellied Pufflegs perform aerial dive displays during courtship. They ascend rapidly then dive in a u-shape, producing a high-pitched buzzing sound with their tail feathers.
– Hummingbirds can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, allowing them to spot nectar guides on flowers that are invisible to humans.
– At night, hummingbirds enter a deep state of torpor to conserve energy. Their metabolic rate slows to around 1/15th of their active rate.
– Relative to its weight, the Emerald-bellied Puffleg has the second smallest known breeding range of any bird species in the world.
– Most hummingbirds feed on nectar from a variety of flower species. But some species have evolved highly specialized relationships with particular plants.
– Hummingbirds can lick nectar up to 13 times per second due to their specialized tongue which works by capillary action.
This covers the key details about the natural history and ecology of the dazzling Emerald-bellied Puffleg. Protecting Ecuador’s few remaining cloud forest habitats will be crucial for the continued survival of this critically endangered species into the future.