Resplendent quetzal

Last updated

Resplendent quetzal
A male
Resplendent Quetzal female.jpg
Female at nest hole
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Trogoniformes
Family: Trogonidae
Genus: Pharomachrus
P. mocinno
Binomial name
Pharomachrus mocinno
La Llave, 1832 [2]

P. m. costaricensis
P. m. mocinno

Pharomachrus mocinno map.png
Range of P. mocinno

The resplendent quetzal ( /ˈkɛtsəl/ ) (Pharomachrus mocinno) is a bird in the trogon family. It is found from Chiapas, Mexico to western Panama (unlike the other quetzals of the genus Pharomachrus, which are found in South America and eastern Panama). It is well known for its colorful plumage. There are two subspecies, P. m. mocinno and P. m. costaricensis.

Trogon family of birds

The trogons and quetzals are birds in the order Trogoniformes which contains only one family, the Trogonidae. The family contains 39 species in seven genera. The fossil record of the trogons dates back 49 million years to the Early Eocene. They might constitute a member of the basal radiation of the order Coraciiformes or be closely related to mousebirds and owls. The word trogon is Greek for "nibbling" and refers to the fact that these birds gnaw holes in trees to make their nests.

Chiapas State of Mexico

Chiapas, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Chiapas, is one of the 31 states that along with the federal district of Mexico City make up the 32 federal entities of Mexico. It is divided into 124 municipalities as of September 2017 and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Other important population centers in Chiapas include Ocosingo, Tapachula, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Comitán and Arriaga. It is the southernmost state in Mexico. It is located in Southeastern Mexico, and it borders the states of Oaxaca to the west, Veracruz to the northwest and Tabasco to the north, and by the Petén, Quiché, Huehuetenango and San Marcos departments of Guatemala to the east and southeast. Chiapas has a coastline along the Pacific Ocean to the south.

Panama Republic in Central America

Panama, officially the Republic of Panama, is a country in Central America, bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half the country's 4 million people.


The resplendent quetzal plays an important role in various types of Mesoamerican mythology. It is the national bird of Guatemala, and its image is found on the country's flag and coat of arms. It also lends its name to the country's currency, the Guatemalan quetzal (abbreviation GTQ).

Guatemala Republic in Central America

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

Flag of Guatemala flag

The flag of Guatemala, often referred to as "Pabellón Nacional" or "Azuliblanco" features two colors: Maya blue and white. The two sky blue stripes represent the fact that Guatemala is a land located between two oceans, the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean ; and the sky over the country. The white signifies peace and purity. The blue and white colors, like those of several other countries in the region, are based on the flag of the former Federal Republic of Central America.

The quetzal is the currency of Guatemala, named after the national bird of Guatemala, the resplendent quetzal. In ancient Mayan culture, the quetzal bird's tail feathers were used as currency. It is divided into 100 centavos, or lenes in Guatemalan slang. The plural is quetzales.


The resplendent quetzal was first described by Mexican naturalist Pablo de La Llave in 1832. It is one of five species of the genus Pharomachrus known as quetzals. The term "quetzal" was originally used for just this species, but is now applied to all members of the genera Pharomachrus and Euptilotis .

Dr. Pablo de la Llave (1773–1833) was a Mexican Catholic priest, politician, and naturalist.

Quetzal informal group of birds

Quetzals are strikingly colored birds in the trogon family.

Two subspecies are recognised, P. m. mocinno and P. m. costaricensis. The epithet mocinno is Llave's Latinization of the name of the biologist J. M. Mociño, a mentor of his. (It is sometimes spelled mocino, but "ñ" was formerly spelled "nn" in Spanish, so the spelling with "nn" is justified and in any case now official. [3] [4] )

José Mariano Mociño Suárez Lozano, or simply José Mariano Mociño, was a naturalist from New Spain.

The word "quetzal" came from Nahuatl (Aztec), where quetzalli (from the root quetza = "stand") meant "tall upstanding plume" and then "quetzal tail feather"; from that Nahuatl quetzaltotōtl means "quetzal-feather bird" and thus "quetzal". [5]

Nahuatl, known historically as Aztec, is a language or group of languages of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Varieties of Nahuatl are spoken by about 1.7 million Nahua peoples, most of whom live in central Mexico.

A root is a word that does not have a prefix in front of the word or a suffix at the end of the word. The root word is the primary lexical unit of a word, and of a word family, which carries the most significant aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents. Content words in nearly all languages contain, and may consist only of root morphemes. However, sometimes the term "root" is also used to describe the word minus its inflectional endings, but with its lexical endings in place. For example, chatters has the inflectional root or lemma chatter, but the lexical root chat. Inflectional roots are often called stems, and a root in the stricter sense may be thought of as a monomorphemic stem.


A male at Savegre in Costa Rica Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) (5772514472).jpg
A male at Savegre in Costa Rica

This species is 36 to 40 cm (14–16 in) long, plus up to 65 cm (26 in) of tail streamer for the male, and weighs about 210 g (7.4 oz). It is the largest representative of the trogon order. [6] The subspecies costaricensis is slightly smaller than the nominate race, with tail plumes that are both shorter and narrower.

Resplendent quetzals have a green body (showing iridescence from green-gold to blue-violet) and red breast. Depending on the light, quetzal feathers can shine in a variant of colors: green, cobalt, lime, yellow, to ultramarine. [7] Their green upper tail coverts hide their tails and in breeding males are particularly splendid, being longer than the rest of the body. Though quetzal plumages appear green, they are actually brown due to the melanin pigment. [8] The primary wing coverts are also unusually long and give a fringed appearance. The male has a helmet-like crest. The bill, which is partly covered by green filamentous feathers, is yellow in mature males and black in females. Their iridescent feathers, which causes them to appear shiny and green like the canopy leaves, are a camouflage adaptation to hide within the canopy during rainy weather. [7] [7]

A female resplendent quetzal in cloud forest of Costa Rica Resplendent Quetzal female - Cloud Forest in Costa Rica S4E9396 (26393203052).jpg
A female resplendent quetzal in cloud forest of Costa Rica

The skin of the quetzal is very thin and easily torn, so it has evolved thick plumage to protect its skin.[ citation needed ] Like other members of the trogon family, it has large eyes that adapt easily to the dim light of its forest home.[ citation needed ]

The "song" is a treble syllable described as kyow or like "a whimpering pup", often in pairs, which may be repeated monotonously. Resplendent quetzals have other unmusical calls as well.

Distribution and habitat

Their habitat is montane cloud forest from Southern Mexico to western Panama.


Resplendent quetzals are weak fliers. Their known predators include the ornate hawk-eagle, golden eagle, and other hawks and owls as adults, emerald toucanets, brown jays, long-tailed weasels, squirrels, and the kinkajou as nestlings or eggs. [9]


A resplendent quetzal found in the Talamanca cloud forests of Costa Rica Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica.jpg
A resplendent quetzal found in the Talamanca cloud forests of Costa Rica

Resplendent quetzals are considered specialized fruit-eaters, although they mix their diet with insects (notably wasps, ants, and larvae), frogs and lizards. [10] Particularly important are wild avocados and other fruit of the laurel family, which the birds swallow whole before regurgitating the pits, which helps to disperse these trees. Quetzals feed more frequently in the midday hours. [11] The adults eat a more fruit-based diet than the chicks, who eat primarily insects and some fruits. [11] Over fifty percent of the fruit they eat come from the Lauraceae family. [12] Quetzals use the methods of "hovering" and "stalling" in order to selectively pick the fruit near the tips of the branches. [11]


Resplendent quetzals create their nests over 200 feet up in the air and court in the air with specific calls. [7] Six specific vocal calls have been recorded: the two-note whistle, gee-gee, wahc-ah-wahc, wec-wec, coouee whistle, uwac, chatter, and buzzing. [7] The first call is related to male territorial behavior, while the coouee whistle is identified as a mating call. [7] [7] Resplendent quetzals usually live alone when not breeding. They are monogamous territorial breeders, with the territory size being measured in Guatemala as 6–10 ha (15–25 acres). They are also seasonal breeders, with the breeding season being March to April in Mexico, May to June in El Salvador and March to May in Guatemala. [13] When breeding, females lay two pale blue eggs in a nest placed in a hole which they carve in a rotten tree. Resplendent quetzals tend to lay two clutches per year and are known to have a high rate of nest failure, around 70 percent. [14] A tree in the required stage of decomposition is susceptible to weather damage, and the availability of suitable trees may limit the resplendent quetzal population.

Both parents take turns at incubating, with their long tail-covert feathers folded forwards over the back and out of the hole, where they tend to look like a bunch of fern growing out of the hole. The incubation period lasts about 18 days, during which the male generally incubates the eggs during the day while the female incubates them at night. When the eggs hatch, both parents take care of the young, feeding them fruit, berries, insects, lizards, and small frogs. However, the female often neglects and even abandons the young near the end of the rearing period, leaving it up to the male to continue caring for the offspring until they are ready to survive on their own.

During the incubation period, when a parent approaches the nest hole, they land and rotate their head side to side before entering, otherwise known as "bowing in". [7] This process ends when the chicks hatch. [7] Young quetzals begin flying after three weeks old but for the males, their long tail feathers take three years to develop. [15]

Status and conservation

The resplendent quetzal is classified as near threatened on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss. [1] However, it does occur in several protected areas throughout its range and is a sought-after species for birdwatchers and ecotourists.

Relationship with humans

Monteverde, Costa Rica
Male leaving nest hole Resplendent Quetzal.jpg
Male leaving nest hole

Myth and legend

The resplendent quetzal was considered divine, associated with the "snake god", Quetzalcoatl by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations. Its iridescent green tail feathers, symbols for spring plant growth, were venerated by the ancient Aztecs and Maya, who viewed the quetzal as the "god of the air" and as a symbol of goodness and light. The Maya also viewed the quetzal symbolizing freedom and wealth, due to their view of quetzals dying in captivity and the value of their feathers, respectively. [16] Mesoamerican rulers and some nobility of other ranks wore headdresses made from quetzal feathers, symbolically connecting them to Quetzalcoatl. [17] Since it was a crime to kill a quetzal, the bird was simply captured, its long tail feathers plucked, and was set free. In several Mesoamerican languages, the term for quetzal can also mean precious, sacred, or erected.

Guatemalan quetzal 1989 halfQuetzal.jpg
Guatemalan quetzal

Until recently, it was thought that the resplendent quetzal could not be bred or held for any long time in captivity, and indeed it was noted for usually killing itself soon after being captured or caged.[ citation needed ] For this reason it is a traditional symbol of liberty. However, the Miguel Álvarez del Toro Zoo in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Mexico has kept this species since 1992, and in 2004 breeding in captivity was announced. A chick hatched and reached the age of six weeks at the time of the report. [18]

The bird is of great relevance to Guatemalan culture, being a character in the widely popular legend of the local hero Tecún Umán, a prince and warrior of the Quiché (K'iche') Maya during the latter stages of the Spanish conquest of the region. This quetzal was his nahual (spirit guide). The Quiché repelled several attacks from the Spanish army, even though outmatched in weaponry (guns, armor and cavalry against spears and arrows).

Legend has it that on the day the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado fought against Tecún Umán, there was a quetzal flying overhead. On the first strike Tecún Umán, on foot, managed to disable Pedro de Alvarado's horse. Alvarado was then given another horse and on the second strike ran through Tecún Umán's chest with a spear. The quetzal flew down and landed on Tecún Umán, dipping its chest in the warrior prince's blood. It is there that the bird acquired its distinctive red chest feathers. [19]

It is debatable whether these events happened, but the Maya fought fiercely for their land and freedom during the conquest. One Mayan legend claims that the quetzal used to sing beautifully before the Spanish conquest, but has been silent ever since; it will sing once again only when the land is truly free.

Related Research Articles


Qʼuqʼumatz was a deity of the Postclassic Kʼicheʼ Maya. Qʼuqʼumatz was the Feathered Serpent divinity of the Popol Vuh who created humanity together with the god Tepeu. Qʼuqʼumatz is considered to be the rough equivalent of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, and also of Kukulkan of the Yucatec Maya tradition. It is likely that the feathered serpent deity was borrowed from one of these two peoples and blended with other deities to provide the god Qʼuqʼumatz that the Kʼicheʼ worshipped. Qʼuqʼumatz may have had his origin in the Valley of Mexico; some scholars have equated the deity with the Aztec deity Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, who was also a creator god. Qʼuqʼumatz may originally have been the same god as Tohil, the Kʼicheʼ sun god who also had attributes of the feathered serpent, but they later diverged and each deity came to have a separate priesthood.

Xōchiquetzal Aztec godess

In Aztec mythology, Xochiquetzal, also called Ichpochtli Classical Nahuatl: Ichpōchtli[itʃˈpoːtʃtɬi], meaning "maiden", was a goddess associated with concepts of fertility, beauty, and female sexual power, serving as a protector of young mothers and a patroness of pregnancy, childbirth, and the crafts practised by women such as weaving and embroidery. In pre-Hispanic Maya culture, a similar figure is Goddess I.

The Sibley-Monroe checklist was a landmark document in the study of birds. It drew on extensive DNA-DNA hybridisation studies to reassess the relationships between modern birds.

Tecun Uman Mayan ruler

Tecun Uman was one of the last rulers of the K'iche' Maya people, in the Highlands of what is now Guatemala. According to the Kaqchikel annals, he was slain by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado while waging battle against the Spanish and their allies on the approach to Quetzaltenango on 12 February 1524. Tecun Uman was declared Guatemala's official national hero on March 22, 1960 and is commemorated on February 20, the popular anniversary of his death. Tecun Uman has inspired a wide variety of activities ranging from the production of statues and poetry to the retelling of the legend in the form of folkloric dances to prayers. Despite this, Tecun Uman's existence is not well documented, and it has proven to be difficult to separate the man from the legend.

White-tailed trogon species of bird

The white-tailed trogon is a near passerine bird in the trogon family. It is found in tropical humid forests of the Chocó, ranging from Panama, through western Colombia, to western Ecuador. It was formerly considered a subspecies of T. viridis, which is widespread in South America east of the Andes, but under the English name white-tailed trogon.

Golden-headed quetzal species of bird

The golden-headed quetzal is a strikingly coloured bird in the genus Pharomachrus; it is also referred to as Trogon auriceps. It is found in moist mid-elevation forests from eastern Panama to northern Bolivia.

Quetzal is a group of colourful birds of the trogon family found in the Americas.

Slaty-tailed trogon species of bird

The slaty-tailed trogon is a near passerine bird in the trogon family, Trogonidae. It breeds in lowlands from southeastern Mexico south through Central America, to Colombia, and a small region of northwestern Ecuador.

Elegant trogon species of bird

The elegant trogon is a near passerine bird in the trogon family. Along with the eared quetzal, it is the most poleward-occurring species of trogon in the world, ranging from Guatemala in the south as far north as the upper Gila River in Arizona and New Mexico. The most northerly populations of subspecies ambiguus are partially migratory, and the species is occasionally found as a vagrant in southeasternmost and western Texas.

Eared quetzal species of bird

The eared quetzal, also known as the eared trogon, is a near passerine bird in the trogon family, Trogonidae. It breeds in streamside pine-oak forests and canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico south to western Michoacán. It is sometimes seen as a vagrant to southeasternmost Arizona in the United States and has bred there. This range includes part of the Madrean Sky Islands region of southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Sonora.

Sierra de las Minas mountain range

Sierra de las Minas is a mountain range in eastern Guatemala, extending 130 km west of the Lake Izabal. It is 15–30 km wide and bordered by the valleys of the rivers Polochic in the north and the Motagua in the south. Its western border is marked by the Salamá River valley which separates it from the Chuacús mountain range. The highest peak is Cerro Raxón at 3,015 m. The Sierra's rich deposits of jade and marble have been mined throughout the past centuries. These small scale mining activities also explain the name of the mountain range.

Crested quetzal species of bird

The crested quetzal /ketSAHL/ is a species of bird in the family Trogonidae native to South America, where it is found in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

White-tipped quetzal species of bird

The white-tipped quetzal is a species of bird in the family Trogonidae found in Venezuela, Colombia, and Guyana. Two subspecies have been described. Pharomachrus fulgidus fulgidus is found in the mountains of northern Venezuela and Pharomachrus fulgidus festatus ranges through the Santa Marta mountains of northeast Colombia. Quetzals are iridescent and colourful birds found in forests, woodlands and humid highlands. The white-tipped quetzal has been a limited subject of research. Pharomachrus nests have been studied to analyse the effects of rainfall on breeding, however conclusions are based on single observations. On the IUCN Red list of threatened species, the white-tipped quetzal is listed as a species of Least concern.

Pavonine quetzal species of bird

The pavonine quetzal is a species of bird in the family Trogonidae, the trogons. It is also known at the peacock trogon, red-billed train bearer, or viuda pico rojo in Spanish. The pavonine quetzal lives in the Neotropics, more specifically in the northern region of the Amazon basin, spreading from Colombia to Bolivia. The most notable characteristics helpful in identifying this bird are its plumage, red beak, and its distribution - it is the only quetzal occupying the lowland rainforest east of the Andes.

Black-headed trogon species of bird

The black-headed trogon is a species of bird in the family Trogonidae. It is found in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, and heavily degraded former forest.

Green-backed trogon species of bird

The green-backed trogon, also known as the Amazonian white-tailed trogon, is a near passerine bird in the trogon family. It is found in tropical humid forests in South America, where its range includes the Amazon, the Guiana Shield, Trinidad, and the Atlantic Forest in eastern Brazil. It formerly included T. chionurus of the Chocó region as a subspecies, but under the common name white-tailed trogon.

The Nest (aviary)

The Nest is an aviary located in Ixtapaluca, state of Mexico. Founded by veterinarian Jesús López Estudillo in the 1960s, it is a civil association created to preserve over 300 different species of birds, both Mexican and the rest of South America, Africa and Asia, mostly endangered. The association—formerly known as Wildlife —also has a space for breeding and conservation of the most endangered species.


  1. 1 2 BirdLife International (2012). "Pharomachrus mocinno". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature . Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. "Pharomachrus mocinno". Integrated Taxonomic Information System . Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  3. Eisenmann, E. (1959). "The Correct Specific Name of the Quetzal, Pharomachrus mocinno". Auk. 76 (1): 108. doi:10.2307/4081862.
  4. "Pharomachrus mocinno Nomenclature". June 2005.
  5. Andrews, J. Richard (2003). Introduction to Classical Nahuatl. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN   0-8061-3452-6.
  6. Johnsgard, Paul A. (2001). Trogons and Quetzals of the World. Smithsonian. ISBN   978-1-56098-388-0.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
  8. "Resplendent Quetzals - Where and When In Costa Rica".
  9. Pribor, Paul (May 24, 1999). "The Biogeography of the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)". San Francisco State University. Retrieved October 6, 2006.
  10. Dayer, Ashley. Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg (ed.). "Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)". Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  11. 1 2 3 H., Ma. Lourdes Avila; O., V. Hugo Hernandez; Verlarde, Enriqueta (25 May 1996). "The Diet of Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus Moncinno mocinno: Trogonidae) in a Mexican Cloud Forest". Biotropica. 28 (4): 720–727. doi:10.2307/2389058. JSTOR   2389058.
  12. "Resplendent Quetzal - Diet and Foraging - Neotropical Birds Online".
  13. Collar, N.J. (2001). "Family Trogonidae (Trogons)". In del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World . Vol. 6 Mousebirds to Hornbills. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions. pp. 126–127. ISBN   84-87334-30-X.
  14. "Resplendent Quetzal - Breeding - Neotropical Birds Online".
  15. "Resplendent Quetzal - National Geographic". 11 November 2010.
  16. Owen, Michael (2013). The Maya Book of Life: Understanding the Xultun Tarot. Routledge. p. 423. ISBN   978-0-473-11989-8 . Retrieved 2015-03-22.
  17. Evans, Susan Toby; David L. Webster (2000). Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia. Kahurangi Press. pp. 265–66. ISBN   978-0815308874 . Retrieved 2015-03-22.
  18. Orellana, Claudia (2004). "Quetzals Bred in Captivity in Chiapas". Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Ecological Society of America. 2 (7): 345. doi:10.2307/3868355. JSTOR   3868355.
  19. Pena, Erin (2001). "Pharomachrus mocinno". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 30 March 2013.