Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis): revise global status?

BirdLife species factsheet for Black-breasted Puffleg

This discussion was first published as part of the 2017 Red List update. At the time, a decision regarding the status of this species was pended and the post remained open. Following experts’ review of the species factsheet, the topic has now been updated to reflect the most recent information. The initial topic on this analysis can be found here.

Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemnis nigrivestis) is endemic to Ecuador, occurring in the highlands of Pichincha, Esmeraldas and Imbabura provinces. The majority of records come from the northwestern ridge-crests of Pichincha volcano, west of Quito. A second subpopulation was re-discovered in 2006 in the Cordillera de Toisán above the Intag valley (Jahn 2008, Aves y Conservación 2018). Sightings on the Atacazo volcano south-west of Quito could not be confirmed; however, it is possible that a small population will occur there.

The species appears to be scarce even in suitable habitat (T. Santander in litt. 2019). At Yanacocha-Verdecocha on the Pichincha volcano, a maximum of four individuals have been observed together during each transect count (T. Santander in litt. 2019, H. M. Schaefer in litt. 2020). The population in this area has preliminarily been estimated at up to 20 individuals (H. M. Schaefer in litt. 2020). Including further individuals in inaccessible, steep terrain and along the western slopes, the subpopulation at Pichincha volcano may number up to 80 individuals (H. M. Schaefer in litt. 2020), which roughly equates to 50 mature individuals. The subpopulation in the Cordillera de Toisán is less well studied. A recent survey however found the subpopulation to be likely larger than the subpopulation on the Pichincha volcano (L. Calapi, W. Arteaga and K. Varela per S. Bos in litt. 2020, Ulloa 2020). The global population is thus tentatively placed in the band 100-150 mature individuals. This estimate may require revision as soon as detailed population data from the Cordillera de Toisán becomes available.

Black-breasted Puffleg inhabits humid and wet montane cloud forest at 1,700-3,500 m (Jahn 2008, Jahn and Santander 2008). The species has occasionally been recorded along bushy forest edges along road sides, steep slopes with stunted vegetation and from taller montane forest interiors and clearings (Bleiweiss and Olalla 1983, Santander et al. 2004, Jahn 2008, Jahn and Santander 2008). However, recent research suggests that the species strongly avoids edge habitats (Guevara et al. 2015). Black-breasted Puffleg undergoes seasonal altitudinal migrations, which are thought to be determined by the flowering of specific vines and species such as fuchsias and ericaceous trees (Bleiweiss and Olalla 1983).

The species is suspected to have suffered drastic declines owing to habitat loss within its small range (Phillips 1998). Around 93% of suitable habitat within its probable historic range has been degraded or destroyed (Williams and Santander 2003). The main threat is the logging of forest for timber, charcoal and mining concessions, facilitating the introduction of cattle and the spread of the agricultural frontier (Phillips 1998, Santander et al. 2004, Jahn 2008). Additionally, human-induced fires threaten large tracts of forest during the dry season (Jahn 2008). In the future, climate change may render remaining habitat unsuitable and push the species above the current treeline (Jahn 2008, Jahn and Santander 2008), which could lead to increased competition with Gorgeted Sunangel (Heliangelus strophianus) (Jahn 2008, Guevara 2013).

Black-breasted Puffleg is currently listed as Critically Endangered under Criterion B1ab(i,ii,iii,v) (BirdLife International 2020). However, in 2008 it had been suggested that classifying the species as Critically Endangered may have been too precautionary, and it has been recommended that downlisting might be appropriate, pending that the persistence of the subpopulation in the Cordillera de Toisán be confirmed (Jahn 2008). The recent discovery of a subpopulation in this area confirms this condition. This new information suggest that this species may warrant a change in Red List status. Therefore, we present here our reassessment against all criteria for the species.

Criterion A – The population of Black-breasted Puffleg is suspected to be in decline based on habitat loss within its range, the rate of which is likely lower than 10% over ten years (Santander et al. 2004, Cárdenas 2007, O. Jahn in litt. 2007, Tracewski et al. 2016, Global Forest Watch 2020; one generation length being 2.1 years; Bird et al. 2020)*. Considering the threat posed by additional habitat degradation, the rate of population decline may be higher than the rate of forest loss, and is here tentatively placed in the band 10-19% over ten years. Therefore, Black-breasted Puffleg qualifies as Least Concern under Criterion A.

Criterion B – The species is known from the slopes of the Pichincha volcano and in the Cordillera de Toisán. Using a Minimum Convex Polygon, the Extent of Occurrence (EOO) of this species has been calculated as 600 km2. The maximum Area of Occupancy (AOO), calculated by a 4 km2 grid over the area of mapped range, is 100 km2. These values meet the thresholds for listing as Endangered under Criterion B1+2. However, in order to be listed as threatened under Criterion B, at least two further conditions have to be met.

In view of our current knowledge about the distribution of the species, we can assume that the two known areas of occurrence of Black-breasted Puffleg represent at least two, but potentially less than five, separate locations** sensu IUCN (see IUCN Standards and Petitions Committee 2019), which meets the threshold for Endangered under condition a. The EOO, AOO and habitat quality are inferred to be in a slow continuing decline, meeting the threshold under condition b(i,ii,iii). Black-breasted Puffleg is not known to undergo extreme fluctuations, thus condition c is not met. Overall, the species may be listed as Endangered under Criterion B1ab(i,ii,iii)+ 2ab(i,ii,iii).

Criterion C – The population of Black-breasted Puffleg is preliminarily estimated to number 100-150 mature individuals, though this may be an underestimate given that the subpopulation in the Cordillera de Toisán is likely larger than thought. The subpopulation on Pichincha volcano is estimated at up to 50 mature individuals (H. M. Schaefer in litt. 2020), while the subpopulation in Toisán may contain a slightly higher number of mature individuals (L. Calapi, W. Arteaga and K. Varela per S. Bos in litt. 2020, Ulloa 2020). This warrants listing as threatened, as long as further conditions are met.

The species is suspected to be in decline. A suspected decline however precludes a listing as threatened under Criterion C, and as such Black-breasted Puffleg can at most be listed as Near Threatened. The rate of decline is thought to be 10-19% over ten years, and sub-criterion 1 is met. Moreover, based on currently available information, both subpopulations are small, with the largest numbering potentially just over 50 mature individuals; hence sub-criterion 2a(i) is met. Therefore, Black-breasted Puffleg qualifies for listing as Near Threatened, approaching the threshold for listing as threatened under Criterion C1+2a(i).

Criterion D – The population size of this species is preliminarily estimated at 100-150 mature individuals. Therefore, it may be listed as Endangered under Criterion D.

Criterion E – To the best of our knowledge no quantitative analysis of extinction risk has been conducted for this species. Therefore, it cannot be assessed against this criterion.

Therefore, it is proposed that Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis)be listed as Endangered under Criteria B1ab(i,ii,iii)+2ab(i,ii,iii); D. We welcome any comments on this proposed listing and specifically request up-to-date information on the size of the subpopulation in the Cordillera de Toisán.

Please note that this topic is not designed to be a general discussion about the ecology of the species, rather a discussion of its Red List status. Therefore, please make sure your comments are relevant to the discussion outlined in the topic.

*Bird generation lengths are estimated using the methodology of Bird et al. (2020), as applied to parameter values updated for use in each IUCN Red List for birds reassessment cycle. Values used for the current assessment are available on request. We encourage people to contact us with additional or improved values for the following parameters; adult survival (true survival accounting for dispersal derived from an apparently stable population); mean age at first breeding; and maximum longevity (i.e. the biological maximum, hence values from captive individuals are acceptable).

**Note that the term ‘location’ defines a geographically or ecologically distinct area in which a single threatening event can rapidly affect all individuals of the taxon present. The size of the location depends on the area covered by the threatening event and may include part of one or many subpopulations. Where a taxon is affected by more than one threatening event, location should be defined by considering the most serious plausible threat (IUCN 2001, 2012).

An information booklet on the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here and the Red List Criteria Summary Sheet can be downloaded here. Detailed guidance on IUCN Red List terms and definitions and the application of the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here.


Aves y Conservación. 2018. Se registra nuevamente al Zamarrito Pechinegro en Imbabura. (Accessed 18/03/2019).

Bird, J. P.; Martin, R.; Akçakaya, H. R.; Gilroy, J.; Burfield, I. J.; Garnett, S.; Symes, A.; Taylor, J.; Šekercioğlu, Ç.; Butchart, S. H. M. (2020). Generation lengths of the world’s birds and their implications for extinction risk. Conservation Biology online first view.

Bleiweiss, R.; Olalla, M. 1983. Notes on the ecology of the Black-breasted Puffleg on Volcan Pichincha, Ecuador. Wilson Bulletin 94: 656-661.

Global Forest Watch. 2020. Interactive Forest Change Mapping Tool. (Accessed 23 April 2020).

Guevara, E.A. 2013. Multi-scale habitat use analysis and interspecific ecology of the Critically Endangered Black-breasted Puffleg, Eriocnemis nigrivestis. MSc Thesis. Faculty of Science, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Guevara, E.A.; Bonaccorso, E.; Duivenvoorden, J.F. 2015. Multi-scale habitat use analysis and interspecific ecology of the Critically Endangered Black-breasted Puffleg Eriocnemis nigrivestis. Bird Conservation International: 1-10.

IUCN. 2001. IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K.

IUCN. 2012. IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. Second edition. IUCN Species Survival Commission. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K.

IUCN Standards and Petitions Committee. 2019. Guidelines for Using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. Version 14. Prepared by the Standards and Petitions Subcommittee.

Jahn, O. 2008. Rediscovery of Black-breasted Puffleg Eriocnemis negrivestis in the Cordillera de Toisán, north-west Ecuador, and reassessment of its conservation status. Cotinga: 31-39.

Jahn, O.; Santander, T. 2008. Species action plan: Black-breasted Puffleg Eriocnemis nigrivestis. Aves & Conservación, Quito, Ecuador.

Montenegro, E. 2017. Informe viaje a reserve Cotacachi-Cayapas, localidad Cayapachupa. En busca del Zamarrito Pechinegro (Eriocnemis nigrivestis). Unpublished report.

Phillips, R. 1998. Red Data Bird: Black-breasted Puffleg Eriocnemis nigrivestis. World Birdwatch 20: 20-21.

Santander, T.; Tellkamp, M.P.; Williams, R.; Davidson, I.J. 2004. Conserving the globally threatened Black-breasted Puffleg Eriocnemis nigrivestis. BirdLife International, Quito, Ecuador.

Tracewski, Ł.; Butchart, S. H. M.; Di Marco, M.; Ficetola, G. F.; Rondinini, C.; Symes, A.; Wheatley, H.; Beresford, A. E.; Buchanan, G. M. 2016. Toward quantification of the impact of 21st-century deforestation on the extinction risk of terrestrial vertebrates. Conservation Biology 30: 1070-1079.

Ulloa, C. 2020. Growing flowers to save a Critically Endangered hummingbird. (Accessed 23 April 2020).

Williams, R.; Santander, T. 2003. Conservation of the Black-breasted Puffleg Eriocnemis nigrivestis: A review of the species’ range and ecology, mapping of remaining habitat and proposal for the species’ conservation.

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8 Responses to Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis): revise global status?

  1. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Global Forest Change data on tree cover loss up to 2019 have now been released and made available via Global Forest Watch. Based on these data, over ten years approximately 0.2% of tree cover with at least 30% canopy cover was lost from within the species’s range (Global Forest Watch 2020). This does not affect the above assessment under Criterion A.

  2. Dear Redlist Team,
    As indicated previously, I do not agree with the proposal. Criterion C applies; there is no evidence for the total population being above 250 mature individuals. In addition, I believe, C2a applies. There is no evidence that the population on the western slopes of Vulcano Pichincha numbers > 50 mature individuals.
    While I have not seen the data collected by Aves & Conservación at Toisán, Jocotoco’s data from 2016 revealed four individuals at one part of this site. Seasonal movements in steep terrain complicate reliable population estimates. The absence of regular records from good habitat in the lower and upper parts of Yanacocha caution strongly against extrapolating data collected on small areas to large areas of apparently suitable habitat. Thus, extrapolating population data for this species is fraught with more challenges than for other species, particularly because there is also a disagreement on the preferred habitat (Bleiweiss, Jahn). The consequence is that extrapolation is likely to over-estimate the true population size.
    Despite 20 years of monitoring and research at Yanacocha and Verdecocha Reserves, there is no good population estimate for these sites. Jocotoco’s 2020 monitoring yielded four individuals in Yanacocha Reserve –as it did in previous years. There has certainly been not an increase in the population despite this site being entirely protected.
    If there are no hard data to show that the population in Toisán numbers >50 mature individuals, I believe there is no reason for changing the category of this species.

    Finally, this species is expected to decline faster than the deforestation rate. Owing to its seasonal movements it presumably requires continuous expanses for suitable habitat across altitudinal gradients. Deforestation and increasing fragmentation are interrupting and reducing continuous forest cover along the Western Andean slope.

  3. Dear reviewer,

    I also do not recommend the down-listing of the Black-breasted Puffleg.

    Aside of the population of Yanacocha reserve (owned and managed by Fundación Jocotoco) and Verdecocha reserve, the Black-breasted Puffleg has been documented at four different locations (which might classify as two subpopulations) in the north (Cayapachupa, and area above Intag Valley ( per T. Santander, Aves y Conservación)).

    Current data do not show that the population size of these subpopulations is higher than 50 mature individuals. At best four individuals were observed at each location. So conclusive data have not been showed nor published.

    Considering the increasing threats of deforestation (exacerbated by the current Covid-19 crisis in Ecuador) and multiple mining concessions in the Intag area, the AOO might be further reduced under 10 km² within the next 5 years , classifying the Black-breasted Puffleg to CR under criterion B2ab(i,ii,iii)).

    Black-breasted Puffleg should remain Critically endangered based on the following two criteria.

    Criterion B2ab(i,ii,iii). The AOO is less than 10km², considering the subpopulations are fragmented (a) and with a decline in the extent of occurrence (bi), area of occupancy (bii), quality of habitat (biii) due to ongoing deforestation in the Intag area and the buffer zone of Cotacachi-Cayapas National Park.

    Criterion C2ai. Subpopulations contain less than 50 mature individuals (no data indicate the opposite), and ongoing deforestation of available habitat is likely causing a decline in population size. This estimate may require revision as soon as detailed population data from the Cordillera de Toisán are published. Untill then, caution is needed before down-listing this rare species.

    In addition, last year, the Red List of Ecuadorian birds was published, assessing all Ecuadorian species against IUCN criteria. The Black-breasted Puffleg was classified as Critically endangered under B1ab(i,ii,iii) (Freile et al. 2019).

    Freile, J. F., T. Santander G., L. Carrasco, D. F. Cisneros-Heredia, E. A. Guevara, M. Sánchez-Nivicela y B. A. Tinoco. (2019). Lista roja de las aves del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente, Aves y Conservación, Comité Ecuatoriano de Registros Ornitológicos, Universidad del Azuay, Red Aves Ecuador y Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Quito, Ecuador.

  4. Juan Freile says:

    In the recent update of the Ecuador red list, we obtained a different estimate of EOO (68 km2) because we removed unsuitable intervening areas between the two known localities (Toisán and Pichincha). We decided to be cautious in suggesting a downgrade for this species, given its overall rarity, restricted distribution, and deficient knowledge of the Toisán population.
    In our 2019 evaluation, we got a very rough and likely overestimated figure of possibly 250 individuals, but considering how rough our estimate was, we precluded using population-related criteria. However, now I suspect that both subpopulations might have less than 50 mature individuals. Until more data is gathered on the Toisán population, I suggest extreme caution. In 2019, we considered it premature to infer population size for the Toisán population.

  5. Dear BirdLife Red List Team,
    In relation to the assessment regarding possible Red List status changes for the Black-breasted Puffleg, Aves y Conservación/BirdLife in Ecuador wants to provide some information and comments.
    Application of Criterion B
    We consider that the calculation of the Area of Occupancy (AOO) estimated on 100 km2, is an overestimation of the true range size for the species. Based on current vegetation maps, elevation shapefiles and current georeferenced occurrence points we have determined that the current known area occupied by the species is closer to the 10 km2. It also should be considered that at this moment the conservation status of Verdecocha reserve is uncertain due to seizure of the property which puts at risk an important and documented breeding area for the species (Juiña and Hickman 2019). In addition, the scenario post Covid-19 is unflattering for land conservation. Extension of agricultural frontier, mining activity and other forms of land-use change are expected to be leaded by Ecuadorian government as attempts to reactivate the economy. These forms of land exploitation will impact the two only known populations for the species.
    Since we agree there are now two locations for the species (Pichincha and Toisán subpopulations) which disqualifies the criterion B(a) for Number of locations but not for Severely fragmented. Criterion B2 needs to be considered not only due to the future projections on habitat lost but also because the BBP did not occupied all the potential habitat (see below).
    Application of Criterion C
    Based on the results of our Ecology of Plant Hummingbird Interaction project (EPHI) were we have used time lapse cameras in a monthly period during 2 to 3 years at three sites where the BBP (Yanacocha, Verdecocha and Alaspungo) has recorded in the past. Among these sites only at Verdecocha the species was recorded continuously, we only have one record at Alaspungo and none in Yanacocha. This suggest the BBP definitely has specific habitat preferences or/and its population size is small. This data together with the information we have from our latest explorations to the Toisán montain range leads us to conclude that the BBP’s population at the Toisán valley is bigger than was thought before and the one at Pichincha is rather relictual and smaller. Therefore, we agreed with Martin that extrapolation is likely to overestimate the true population size.

  6. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion. We greatly appreciate the time and effort invested by so many people in commenting. The window for consultation is now closed. We will analyse and interpret the new information and post a preliminary decision on this species’s Red List status on this page in early July.

    Thank you once again,
    BirdLife Red List Team

  7. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Preliminary proposal

    The values for EOO and AOO are exceeding the threshold for listing as CR under Criterion B. IUCN guidelines do not allow deleting areas from the EOO; it always has to be calculated as a continuous Minimum Convex Polygon. The AOO needs to be scaled to a 2km x 2km grid.

    Invoking Criterion C is complicated by the absence of solid population data. There is consensus that the population is very small. Nevertheless, even when precautionarily accepting that the subpopulation in Toisán numbers less than 50 mature individuals, we cannot infer a population decline.

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2020 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classification outlined in the initial forum discussion.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline in mid-July, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2020 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in December 2020/January 2021, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  8. Martin Schaefer says:

    Dear BirdLife Team,

    I am sorry, but I continue to disagree with the downlisting to “Endangered”. Criterion C applies because –as stated previously– you can, and should, infer a population decline. First, there aew quantitative data on the deforestation available up to 2018 at the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment. As of now, these data do not seem to have taken into account in your assessment.
    While deforestation at the elevation of the Black-breasted Puffleg is not as severe as it is at lower elevations in the Chocó, it is obvious that the habitat is shrinking, not expanding.
    With two disjunct populations, strong fragmentation in between, specialized feeding habits, and likely seasonal altitudinal migration, it is highly likely that the population decline surpasses the rate of deforestation with the time span of three generations. Yet, at the very minimum you would need to take into account recent and not historic deforestation rates.
    I can only emphasise that according to the discussion in this forum, I do not see any data that currently warrant a down-listing to “endangered”.

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