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Quetzal

tail green male streamers

The quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), also known as the resplendent quetzal or magnificent quetzal, is an astonishingly beautiful bird of tropical forests. It is a member of the trogon family (Trogonidae).

The quetzal has a body length of 14 in (36 cm); in addition, the male has impressive tail streamers as long as 25 in (64 cm). The mature male has a shining green body color, with a crimson belly, white under the tail, and two long, green tail-streamers. The male also has a laterally compressed, green "helmet" that extends forward over the face to the base of its bill. The female and young are a duller-green color, with a gray-green belly, a red patch and black-and-white barring under the tail. They lack the tail-streamers and crest found on the male.

The quetzal inhabits humid, montane cloud-forest, occurring in the tree canopy and along stand edges. It occurs over an altitudinal range of about 4,000 to 10,000 ft (1,200-3,000 m). These birds exist either in pairs or solitude, but may be present in small groups when feeding on a fruit-laden tree or during the non-breeding season. Quetzal feeds on fruits, insects and other invertebrates, small frogs, and lizards. It has a melodious territorial song, and several sharp call notes. The quetzal breeds from March to June, laying two eggs in a tree-cavity nest, and sometimes rearing two broods in a season.

The quetzal ranges widely over tropical Central America, occurring in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, southern Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. Much of its original habitat has been lost through deforestation to develop agricultural land, or damaged through timber harvesting. Quetzals are somewhat tolerant of disturbances to its habitat, as long as remnants of woodland remain, and there are sufficient fruit-bearing and cavity-containing trees for feeding and breeding. Although not listed as an endangered species by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the quetzal is not as abundant overall as it once was.

The quetzal held great cultural and religious significance to the Maya, Aztecs, and other indigenous peoples of Central America. It was a prominent, sacred image in artwork and legends. To harm these beautiful birds was forbidden. The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, and the name of Guatemalan currency.

Additional species of quetzals from South America include: the crested quetzal (Pharomachrus antisianus), the golden-headed quetzal (P. auriceps), the pavonine quetzal (P. pavoninus), and the white-tipped quetzal (P. fulgidus).


Bill Freedman

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