One of the world's most beautiful birds
The resplendent quetzal, the brilliant bird found in the cloud forests of Central America, was sacred to the Mayans and figures prominently in their artwork and legends. It is reputed to be the most beautiful bird that exists in the American continents and belongs to the Trogan family.
These vibrantly colored animals live in the mountainous, tropical forests of Central America where they eat fruit, insects, lizards, and other small creatures. Quetzal is taken from the Aztec word 'quetzalli' meaning precious or beautiful.
This species is 35 cm long with an additional 64 cm of tail streamer for the male, and weighs 210 g. Resplendent Quetzals have a green body (showing iridescence from green-gold to blue-violet) and bright red breast. Their blue-green primary wing covers extend into their tail feathers and in breeding males are particularly splendid, being longer than the rest of the body. Its red belly contrasts starkly with its metallic green upper parts and long streaming bold white undertail.
Quetzal pairs use their powerful beaks to hollow out nests in rotted trees or stumps. Sometimes, however, they simply take over and enlarge the abandoned nest of a trogón or woodpecker.
If they come across a nest used by quetzals the previous year, they clean it up a little and stay there. Inside, they take turns incubating 2 or 3 eggs - though males have such long tails that they sometimes stick outside the nest.
The Quetzal’s brilliant plumage means that it has always been a species that attracted a great deal of attention and was much sought after. In Mayan times it was forbidden to kill it.
Sometimes, quetzals break their silence and make lots of noise; 5 or 6 of them gather together and screech loudly as they fly around the forest.
Your chances of seeing one in the wild
Unfortunately, these striking birds are threatened in Guatemala and elsewhere throughout their range. Like many other animals, despite their beauty, their wonderful plumage and delightful name, they are now an endangered species. Little is known about these impressive birds, but they are threatened by continued destruction of their cloud forest habitat.
Since quetzals do not reproduce in captivity, it is vital that their habitat is protected to ensure they do not disappear. The resplendent quetzal is listed as 'Near Threatened' by IUCN.