Turquoise-throated Puffleg Hummingbird Species

The Turquoise-Throated Puffleg (Eriocnemis godini) is a small hummingbird endemic to the northern Andes mountains of South America. With its glittering turquoise-colored throat, the puffleg is considered one of the most beautiful hummingbirds in the world. In this article, we will explore the natural history, conservation status, and unique adaptations of this stunning bird.


The turquoise-throated puffleg is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring around 11-12 cm in length. It gets its name from the brilliant turquoise gorget (throat feathers) found on the adult male. When the light catches these feathers just right, they shine with an iridescent turquoise, violet, and emerald green. Females of the species lack the colorful throat and are more dull brownish-grey overall.

This species is placed in the genus Eriocnemis, which includes around 12 other puffleg hummingbird species. “Pufflegs” get their name from their distinctive leg feathers which are large and puffy-looking. The turquoise-throated puffleg is the most widespread and well-known member of this genus.

Natural History

Range and Habitat

The turquoise-throated puffleg occupies a broad range across the Andes mountains of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Its elevational range stretches from around 2400-4100 meters above sea level.

This is a high elevation species that is found predominately in cloud forest and elfin forest habitats. It prefers areas with lush vegetation, moss-covered trees, bromeliads, and numerous flowering plants. The puffleg tends to avoid open areas and forest edges. Areas with running streams and wet bogs surrounded by thick vegetation are prime puffleg habitat.

Feeding Behavior

Like all hummingbirds, the turquoise-throated puffleg has unique adaptations for nectar-feeding. Its long, slender bill is perfectly shaped for extracting nectar from flowers. The bill length matches the corolla depth of the puffleg’s preferred nectar sources. This species uses its extensible tongue to lap up nectar while hovering in front of flowers.

Some of the main food plants include fuchsia, besleria, and epiphytic eriocaulon. The puffleg will aggressively defend these and other nectar resources. It spends the majority of its time feeding and perching within dense vegetation along forest edges and streams.

In addition to nectar, the puffleg supplements its diet by hawking small insects from leaves and branches. The genus name Eriocnemis means “woolly shins”, referring to the puffy leg feathers which may help protect against stings and bites when chasing insects within vegetation.

Reproduction and Breeding

The breeding season for the turquoise-throated puffleg runs from March to August, coinciding with the wetter months. During this time, the males will perform courtship displays to visiting females. These displays involve hovering in place and flying in repeated upward arcs above the female.

If receptive, the female will perch and allow the male to mount. The pair then engages in a brief copulation. The female alone builds the nest, selecting a depression or small overhang on a vertical bank, stump, or tree fern. She constructs the nest cup from various soft materials including mosses and lichens.

The female lays just two tiny white eggs. She alone incubates the eggs for about 16-19 days. The chicks hatch out nearly naked but quickly grow fuzzy down. Both parents feed and care for the chicks with regurgitated food. The young leave the nest at around 23 days old.

Conservation Status

The turquoise-throated puffleg is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Its population appears stable and it occupies a relatively wide range. However, habitat loss is a concern going forward. Logging, mining, agriculture, and other development activities continue to degrade and fragment key forest habitats across the Andes. Climate change also poses a potential long-term threat.

While still relatively common, localized declines have been noted in some areas such as Peru. Expanding protected areas and maintaining connectivity between isolated fragments of suitable habitat will benefit the puffleg. Ecotourism may also aid conservation, as birders travel far and wide for a chance to observe this dazzling species in the wild.

Unique Adaptations

The turquoise-throated puffleg possesses several unique morphological and behavioral adaptations that enable its high elevation, nectar-feeding lifestyle:

– Long, specialized bill perfectly shaped to match the corolla depths of its preferred nectar-producing flowers

– Extremely long tongue (up to 8 cm) with a straw-like tip for extracting nectar while hovering

– Exceptional flight capabilities – can beat wings up to 70 times per second and fly backwards or upside-down

– High metabolism and rapid heart rate to generate energy for continuous, active foraging

– High oxygen affinity hemoglobin to thrive in oxygen-poor environments

– Dense, insulating plumage to conserve heat in cold mountain conditions

– Puffy, scaled leg feathers may regulate airflow and protect legs when chasing insects

– Aggressive territorial behavior allows monopolization of resource-rich habitats

– Ability to enter daily torpor or reduced body temperature to conserve energy overnight

The puffleg’s bill, tongue, wings, feathers, physiology, behavior, and more are all modified to take advantage of the abundant nectar resources found within its Andean mountain habitat. It is a specialist perfectly adapted to its high elevation niche.


With its showy turquoise gorget and acrobatic flight, the turquoise-throated puffleg is one of the Andes’ most charming hummingbird residents. It is adapted in remarkable ways to make a living high in the mountain forests, surviving cold temperatures, low oxygen, and limited resources. While currently stable, habitat loss across its range is a looming threat. Maintaining protected habitat corridors in the mountains of South America will be crucial going forward to ensure the continued survival of this unique and captivating species. The puffleg serves as an important indicator of ecosystem health and a reminder of the fragility of biodiverse communities in the northern Andes.