The Colorful Pufflegs (Eriocnemis mirabilis) are South American hummingbirds with a very limited range in southwestern Colombia.
Its population is estimated to be between 50 – 250 adult birds; and it is one of 192 bird species currently listed as “Critically Endangered” by BirdLife International (a global alliance of conservation organisations).
Discovery and Naming
The Colorful Puffleg was discovered in April 1967, when photographer John Dunning caught what he described as a “miraculous” bird.
He named this hummingbird appropriately “Eriocnemis mirabilis”.
Not long after its discovery, this species was considered extinct until it was rediscovered in 1997.
“Eriocnemis” is derived from two Greek words, the first meaning “wool” or “cotton”, and the other word meaning “thigh” – in reference to this bird’s distinctive dense, white feathering around its legs known as “leg puffs” – which are unique among the pufflegs.
“Mirabilis” is the Latin adjective meaning “amazing, wondrous, remarkable” – and it refers to this bird’s beautifully iridescent, colorful plumage.
It is locally known as the “Colibri de Zamarros” or, in English, “hummingbird with hot pants” since his feather puffs tend to have a cinnamon tint.
Other (global) Names
Spanish: Calzadito Admirable, Calzoncitos de Munchique, Coqueta Maravillosa … Italian: Colibrì zampepiumose multicolore, Fiocchetto multicolore … German: Blaubauch-Höschenkolibri, Weißohr-Schneehöschen … French: Érione multicolore … Czech: Kolibrík barevný, kolib?ík barevný … Danish: Pragtkvastben … Finnish: Kirjosukkakolibri … Japanese: nishikiwataashihachidori … Dutch: Witoorpluimbroekje … Norwegian: Regnbuedunfot … Polish: puchatek barwny … Russian: ???????? ????? … Slovak: pancuchárik pestrý … Swedish: Prakttofsbena
Distribution / Range
The Colorful Puffleg is a resident (non-migratory) hummingbird with a very limited range in the northern Andes of southwestern Colombia. Its natural range includes the Munchique National Park, Serrania del Pinche and El Planchón in the Cordillera Occidental, in the Cauca Department; where they live on the steep slopes of a small section of cloud forest between the altitudes of 7,200 – 9,800 + feet (2,200 and 3,000 + meters).
Within its range, it is generally uncommon, and its populations are very localized.
Unfortunately, the existence of this hummingbird is at risk due to the clearing of cloud forests for crops and cattle crazing.
Size: The Colorful Pufflegs average 3.1 inches or 8 cm in length (including bill and tail).
Common Physical Traits: They have fairly short, straight black bills, distinctive small white eye spots, and pink feet. This hummingbird’s English name has been derived from its spectacular multi-colored plumage.
This species was named for the snow-white dense feathering around the legs known as “leg puffs” (which are not always visible). These leg puffs are unique to the pufflegs and have been described as resembling “woolly panties” or “little cotton balls” above the legs,
The adult male has a mostly dark glossy green plumage; except for the glittering green forehead and gorget (throat patch), iridescent blue abdomen, and red and coppery-gold undertail feathers. He has distinctive large white leg puffs fringed cinnamon. His forked tail is dark and bronzy-colored above, and coppery-gold below.
The adult female is glossy dark green above and on the sides. She has a white throat and her plumage below is mostly white, spotted green with glossy reddish, golden, and bluish spots on the abdomen, flanks, and undertail. Her bronze-green tail is black-tipped. She has small white leg puffs.
Similar Species: The males are uniquely colored and can’t easily be confused with other species. However, the females look similar to other smaller female hummingbird species; however, they can be identified by their reddish abdomen spots.
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Calls / Vocalizations
Like most hummingbirds, they are mostly silent. Their occasional calls (often given after taking flight) are described as a monotonously repeated metallic “tsip tsip tsip“.
Nesting / Breeding
Hummingbirds are solitary in all aspects of life other than breeding, and the male’s only involvement in the reproductive process is the actual mating with the female. They neither live nor migrate in flocks, and there is no pair bond for this species.
Males court females by flying in a U-shaped pattern in front of them. He will separate from the female immediately after copulation. One male may mate with several females. In all likelihood, the female will also mate with several males. The males do not participate in choosing the nest location, building the nest, or raising the chicks.
The female Colorful Puffleg is responsible for building the cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers woven together and green moss on the outside for camouflage in a protected location in a shrub, bush or tree.
She lines the nest with soft plant fibers, animal hair, and feathers down, and strengthens the structure with spider webbing and other sticky material, giving it an elastic quality to allow it to stretch to double its size as the chicks grow and need more room.
The nest is typically found on a low, thin horizontal branch.
The average clutch consists of two white eggs, which she incubates alone, while the male defends his territory and the flowers he feeds on. The young are born blind, immobile, and without any down.
The female alone protects and feeds the chicks with regurgitated food (mostly partially digested insects since nectar is an insufficient source of protein for the growing chicks). The female pushes the food down the chicks’ throats with her long bill directly into their stomachs.
As is the case with other hummingbird species, the chicks are brooded only the first week or two and left alone even on cooler nights after about 12 days – probably due to the small nest size. The chicks leave the nest when they are about 20 days old.
Diet / Feeding
The Colorful Pufflegs primarily feed on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs, and epiphytes; particularly the nectar of a variety of orchids, bromeliads, cavendishia, and melastomes.
They generally favor flowers with the highest sugar content (often red-colored and tubular-shaped) and seek out, and aggressively protect, those areas containing flowers with high-energy nectar. They use their long, extendible, straw-like tongues to retrieve the nectar while hovering with their tails cocked upward as they are licking at the nectar up to 13 times per second. Sometimes they may be seen hanging on the flower while feeding.