Hoary Puffleg Hummingbird Species

The Hoary Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) is a species of hummingbird found in the high Andes of Ecuador and northern Peru. With its white plumes and black underparts, the Hoary Puffleg is one of the most striking hummingbirds in South America. This medium-sized hummingbird measures around 11-12 cm in length and weighs 6-8 grams. The male has a black head, throat and breast, with a prominent white ‘puff’ behind each eye, white tips on the tail, and white plumes on the flank feathers. The female is similar but has greener plumes, less black on the underside, and lacks the dramatic white puffs behind the eyes.

The Hoary Puffleg inhabits montane forest and elfin forest at elevations between 2500-4100 meters above sea level. They are found in cloud forest and treeline scrub where they feed primarily on nectar from the flowers of shrubs and small trees. Some favorite food plants include genera such as Pernettya, Gaultheria, Brachyotum, and Fuchsia. The long curved bill allows the bird to probe into long tubular flowers. Hoary Pufflegs are also aggressive trapliners, fiercely defending flower territories from other hummingbirds.

This species exhibits some altitudinal migration, moving to lower elevations in the non-breeding season. The breeding season runs from March to June. Males perform elaborate courtship displays, flying back and forth in an oval pattern while making buzzing and popping sounds with their tail feathers. The female builds a small cup nest out of plant fibers and moss, attached to a low branch or tree fern. She lays two tiny white eggs. Incubation lasts 16-19 days and the chicks fledge after another 20-23 days.

The Hoary Puffleg joins mixed-species feeding flocks and may associate with other mountain hummingbirds such as the Violet-throated Metaltail, Shining Sunbeam, and Bronzy Inca. One of its natural predators is the Collared Forest-Falcon, a bird of prey that specializes in catching hummingbirds.

This species remains relatively common across its range and the population appears stable. However, some localized declines have occurred, particularly in southern Ecuador. The main threats include habitat loss and fragmentation as forests are cleared for agriculture, grazing, and development. Climate change may also pose a long-term threat, as upward shifts in the treeline could reduce available cloud forest habitat.

Partners in Flight estimates the global population at 50,000-500,000 individuals. The Hoary Puffleg has a wide distribution and occurs in several protected areas such as Podocarpus National Park in southern Ecuador. Some targeted conservation actions for this species include preserving high-elevation cloud forest, controlling grazing animals and invasive plant species in protected areas, and maintaining natural pollination systems. Ecotourism focused on bird-watching provides an incentive for local communities to conserve habitat.

With its ornate white puffs and contrasting black and white plumage, the Hoary Puffleg is a showy addition to any cloud forest birding trip in the Andean highlands. Observing a male puffleg displaying at his flower territory offers an unforgettable glimpse of nature. As development pressures continue to threaten cloud forest habitats in the Andes, ensuring the survival of special species like the Hoary Puffleg will require a concerted conservation effort. Protecting birds like this that inhabit a fragile niche also preserves incredible biodiversity. The Hoary Puffleg reminds us there are still wondrous creatures to discover and protect in the mysterious cloud forests of the high Andes.