Bird of the Week, December 21, 2012

Resplendent Quetzal


Resplendant Quetzal by Larry Thompson


The Resplendent Quetzal, considered one of the world’s most beautiful birds, sports shimmering plumage of brilliant metallic blues, greens, and reds. Males also have a crest of bristly golden-green feathers. During mating season, male quetzals grow elongated upper tail coverts which form a “tail” or train of feathers up to three feet long and play an important part in the bird’s swooping flight display.


This spectacular member of the trogon family was considered sacred by the Mayans and the Aztecs, symbolizing freedom and wealth. In both cultures, Quetzalcoatl, the “plumed serpent” god who helped create the Earth, was likely inspired by this bird.  Their feathers were used as money; even today, the currency of Guatemala is known as the quetzal.


Quetzals eat insects, small frogs, lizards, and fruit. They particularly favor a miniature avocado variety, which the birds swallow whole before regurgitating the pits, helping to disperse these trees. They nest in rotted trees or stumps about 30 feet above the ground, sometimes using old woodpecker holes.


The Resplendent Quetzal is threatened mainly by widespread deforestation throughout its range for subsistence agriculture, and hunting for food and trade.


Auspiciously, today’s date, December 21, 2012, is the last date on the Mayan calendar.


Happy holidays to all our friends and supporters!




Photo: Larry Thompson; Range Map, NatureServe