Gorgeted puffleg (Eriocnemis isabellae)

GenusEriocnemis (1)
SizeMale total length: 9.7 – 9.9 cm (2)
Male tail length: 3.5 – 3.8 cm (2)
Male wingspan: 6.2 cm (2)
Male weight: 3.9 - 4.5 g (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Discovered as recently as 2005 (2), the gorgeted puffleg is a highly threatened hummingbird (3). The common name arises from the large, strikingly-coloured throat patch (or ‘gorget’), which is iridescent blue-violet in the centre and green at the edges, and the white, feathery tufts enveloping the bird’s legs, which are reminiscent of a powder-puff (4). The male gorgeted puffleg has black plumage, tinged with green, while the female is a lighter golden green, with a smaller throat patch, a turquoise tint to the belly, and a fringe of reddish-brown on the underparts. The tail is bluish-black (2). The scientific name Eriocnemis comes from two Greek words, the first meaning ‘wool’ or ‘cotton’, and the other word meaning ‘thigh’ (4).

This rare bird occurs only in the Serranía del Pinche of south-west Colombia (2).

The gorgeted puffleg inhabits cloud forest, between altitudes of 2,600 and 2,900 metres, where stunted trees (six to eight metres high) grow on the steep mountain slopes (3).

Hummingbirds possess long, extendable tongues that allow them to reach into flowers to obtain the sugar-rich nectar (5). The gorgeted puffleg is thought to feed on the nectar of plants (such as Bejaria resinosa, Cavendishia bracteata, Cinchena pubesens and Faramea flavicansi), and also eats insects, including small flies (2).

All hummingbirds display an amazing ability of flight. Beating the wings so fast they become a blur to human eyes, hummingbirds are capable of hovering, flying backwards, and changing direction at incredible speed. In normal flight they can beat their wings up to 75 times per second, increasing to 200 beats per second when a male is courting a female (6). Beating the wings at such speed creates the humming noise they are named after, and this may be used by the birds to communicate, as varying frequencies in sound have been seen to alter the behaviour of fellow hummingbirds (7).

As this species was so recently discovered, there is not yet any information available on its breeding biology.

Upon discovery in 2005, the population of the gorgeted puffleg was estimated to be very small, partly due to it having only ten square kilometres or less of suitable habitat remaining. Since then, the population is likely to have declined further, as around eight percent of cloud forest in Serranía del Pinche is degraded every year by agriculture, primarily for the cultivation of coca (Erythroxylum coca) (2) (3).

Local authorities, the Ministry of Environment, The Hummingbird Conservancy, Ecohabits Foundation and local residents are all working together on an ongoing conservation plan, which aims to protect the habitat of the Serranía del Pinche and promote local conservation and education initiatives (2). Further studies to determine the population size and status of the gorgeted puffleg, along with the creation of a protected area within the Serranía del Pinche, have been proposed (3).

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  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
  2. Cortés-Diago, A., Ortega, L.A., Mazariegos-Hurtado, L. and Weller, A.A. (2007) A new species of Eriocnemis (Trochilidae) from southwest Colombia. Ornitologia Neotropical, 18: 161-170.
  3. BirdLife International (May, 2010)
  4. Wood, J.G. (1851) The Illustrated Natural History. Routledge, London.
  5. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Hanzák, J. (1967) The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Birds. Paul Hamlyn, London.
  7. Hunter, T.A. (2008) On the role of wing sounds in hummingbird communication. The Auk, 125(3): 532-541.