Ecuador has an avifauna diversity that is unparalleled throughout the world. Of the 3000 species of birds inhabiting the continent of South America, over half of those species can be encountered in this small and friendly nation. What makes birding in Ecuador even more appealing is that most of these birds are easily accessible by public transportation.
It is the goal of this blog to highlight the avian beauty of this country through photographic images and in-depth descriptions.
Since the first of June I have made two trips up to
Yanacocha Reserve to observe the Black-breasted
Puffleg. I have written a technical article on this very rare and elusive
bird as well as mentioned it in my blog on the birding
areas of Ecuador. However, I would like to add some personal observations
that might help others to locate and view this critically endangered species. (There
is a large article on the Yanacocha Reserve in my recently published e-book on
Amazon.com titled “Birding Northwest Ecuador”. www.amazon.com
or www.amazon.co.uk )
The Black-breasted Puffleg has an extremely limited range on
the northern slopes of the Pichincha volcano near Quito, the capital city of
Ecuador. Little is known about it but there is much that has been presumed
although not verified. During the months of May through September it can
occasionally be sighted at the Yanacocha Reserve near Quito and the Verdecocha
reserve a little further west. Outside of these months it is assumed to migrate
to higher altitudes where it breeds during the months of January through March.
My first observation of the Black-breasted Puffleg was on
June 5, 2012 while at the Yanacocha Reserve. I had looked for it many times in
the past, during its more prominent months, but had always come away empty
handed. This trip was different and I not only observed a young female but also
was able to acquire several good photos. Most of all I spent much time
observing this little creature in hopes of learning more about its habits and
increasing my chances of encountering it again. After several emails with Jane
Lyons, a local ornithologist, about my sighting, I decided to return to gather
more information. On June 16 I viewed both a male and female in the same area
as the first.
I will admit that my first sighting was by luck. It had
everything to do with being in the correct location. The Black-breasted Puffleg
does not vocalize much, a tiny chirp perhaps every few minutes while perched.
It made no sound while flying other than the hum produced by its wings while
fluttering from flower to flower. This is what attracted my attention and
allowed me to see it for the first time. Once it was located it was a matter of
following its flight, which was generally short in duration.
This little hummingbird has a short beak and was feeding on
flower buds from the surrounding trees. (Ericaceae Cavendishia) There were
larger flowers in the area but it remained at the blossoms that had shorter
depths. It would forage for a minute or two and then perch for several minutes.
When seeking out this species it would be necessary to sit quietly for a period
of time to give it a chance to fly before it can be observed. Patience is the
During my first visit I observed a female feeding about 2 –
3 meters off the ground and perching 2 meters high on bare branches. The day was slightly overcast but generally warm for the
area. (10o C) During the second sighting I watched both a male and a
female feeding in the same area but when it rested it was generally in heavy
cover and no more than 1 meter from the ground. This day was cooler (7o
C) and overcast with clouds rolling in during the observations.
Both sightings were in the same location along the
black-breasted Puffleg trail about 50 meters from the main path. The foliage is
fairly dense but opens into a clearing of roughly 20 m diameter. There were
several other understory bird species in the region including Rufous Antpitta,
Rufous Wren, Barred Fruiteaters and Stripe-headed Brush-finch. Both Glossy and
Masked Flowerpiercers could be heard higher in the trees but were never seen in
contact with the Puffleg.
I know that I have not provided a lot of information but
hopefully it is enough that a person might have a better chance of spotting
this seldom seen bird. It is always a pleasure to observe a species of this
caliber. I know of many avid birders who have searched for years without ever
seeing this magnificent creature. If all goes well, with this data, a little
luck and a lot of patience others may be rewarded with a peek at the
I remember the first time I saw the Barred Fruiteater (see
full article here). I was walking the Black-breasted
Puffleg trail at Yanacocha
Reserve when I heard some rustling in the tree above me. It was a female. I
could see some movement but it was the bright orange beak and feet that helped
me recognize that it was something other than the breeze affecting the leaves.
She was about 6 feet over my head, sitting quietly amongst the damp moss. My
position was not the greatest for observation or photography but I was afraid
any sudden movement would send her on her way. So I watched and enjoyed the
moment as the morning dew dripped on my neck and trickled down my back.
I often wonder why some birds will remain in these more
disagreeable climates. They have wings; so why not seek a better location? I
probably ponder about this most when I am fighting the wind and snow flurries
up at Papallacta Pass. (I also debate why I am there.)
Female Barred Fruiteater (Pipreola arcuata)
The Barred Fruiteater prefers the high altitude rainforest
of the Andes Mountains, hiding amid the damp leaves and moss at mid heights. It
is not an exceptionally active bird so it is difficult to spot in its
surroundings. It is one of those species whose habits and environment need to
be studied before you can point it out to someone else. Many times people will
walk past, not noticing this beautiful inhabitant eyeing them from a safe
Although the Barred Fruiteater can be found on both the
eastern and western slopes of the Andes, I do not recall seeing it anywhere
other than at Yanacocha during my explorations. There I have seen it on several
occasions, generally back near the hummingbird feeders prior to the tunnel.
They were not at the feeders themselves but in the heavy foliage along the
paths leading from the area.
I enjoy birding in the company of others, either while
guiding or just out observing with friends. But there are times when it is
advantageous to bird alone. The first time I saw this handsome bird was one of
them. I believe that had I been with someone else I might have missed seeing
this beauty. Since then I have been able to share this experience with others
by know what and where to look for this illusive bird.
Places where you can observe the Barred Fruiteater are Guango
Lodge & Reserve, Huashapamba Forest Reserve, Podocarpus-Cajanuma, San
Isidro Reserve, Tapichalaca Reserve, and Yanacocha Reserve.