Dressed in stunning glittering emerald-green plumage with a deep-red breast, the Resplendent Quetzal is known for its extraordinary beauty and is considered a sacred symbol in the Mayan culture as well as for the Aztecs.
The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) inhabits the montane cloud forest from southern Mexico to western Panama, where it is one of the most sought-after sights by birders.
The species belongs to the Trogonidae family, the members of which are distinguished by their colorful feathers and their unique characteristic of pecking on softwood or rotted trees to create holes for nests.
As for its diet, this omnivorous bird feeds on just about anything, including fruits, berries, insects, lizards, frogs, and any other small animals that it can catch. However, according to the American Bird Conservancy, its food of choice is the tiny wild avocado, which it swallows whole, spitting out the seed when it has eaten all the flesh.
Considered among the most beautiful birds in the world, the female is covered in brilliant blue, green, and red coloring; however, the breeding males, which are more vibrant, seem almost impossibly striking.
In addition to their fluffy green crest, as the mating season rolls out, they grow tail feathers that can extend up to 3 feet long, according to National Geographic.
This means that when taking their turn to incubate the 2–3 eggs laid inside tree trunks, the males tend to fold their feathers over their backs to stay out of sight. Even so, sometimes their feathers are so long that they seem to stick out.
As might be expected, the feathers play an important role. As the male tries to impress his female counterpart during mating season, he flies down from tall trees to show his elongated feathers behind him. In addition to their beautiful display, males also sing to the females.
The bird’s tail feathers have been culturally significant. By capturing Resplendent Quetzals, plucking their tail feathers, and then setting them free, people created headdresses for the Aztec ruling class.
As for the Mayan people, the Quetzal also had quasi-divine status. Their inability to domesticate the bird and get it to reproduce in captivity made it a powerful symbol of freedom. The rare feathers that fell or were plucked came to be a valuable form of currency, which made “Quetzals” the perfect unit for Guatemala’s currency, introduced in 1925.
Unfortunately, the Resplendent Quetzal population is decreasing due to loss of habitat from deforestation as well as poaching for exotic animal collectors and its feathers. The IUCN lists its population at around 50,000 and its status as “Near Threatened.” Thankfully, at reserves like El Jaguar in Nicaragua and Los Quetzales National Park in Costa Rica, the bird’s rainforest habitat is being protected.
While historically the Quetzals were known for refusing to breed in captivity, ZooMAT in Southern Mexico has partnered with the Dallas World Aquarium to hatch over more than a dozen eggs since 2003. The release of these birds into the cloud forests of El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in the state of Chiapas might be one small step toward rebuilding the wild population.
We would love to hear your stories! You can share them with us at email@example.com