Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal

Magnificent quetzal, Resplendent trogon

Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Pharomachrus mocinno
Population size
20-50 thou
Life Span
3-10 yrs
WEIGHT
180-210 g
LENGTH
36-40 cm

Resplendent quetzals are beautiful birds well known for their colorful plumage. They 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. Their green upper tail coverts hide their tails and in breeding males are particularly splendid, being longer than the rest of the body. 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.

Distribution

Resplendent quetzals are found from Chiapas, Mexico to western Panama. They inhabit montane cloud forests but can also be found in vegetated ravines, open areas with scattered trees and pastures.

Resplendent Quetzal habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Resplendent quetzals usually live alone when not breeding but they may gather in big numbers in one tree at the same time when feeding. They forage more frequently in the midday hours. The adults have a more fruit-based diet while the chicks consume primarily insects and some fruits. Quetzals use the methods of "hovering" and "stalling" in order to selectively pick the fruit near the tips of the branches. Particularly important are wild avocados and other fruit of the laurel family, which the birds swallow whole before regurgitating the pits. Resplendent quetzals are very loud and are most vocal during calm cloudy dawns and misty afternoons. On sunny days or when it's windy, they are usually quiet. Their "song" is a treble syllable described as 'kyow' or like "a whimpering pup", often performed in pairs, which may be repeated monotonously. They also communicate with other unmusical calls which include a warning 'weec-weec' call, alarm 'perwick' sound or a 'ka-ka-ka' call.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Resplendent quetzals are considered specialized fruit-eaters, although they mix their diet with insects (notably wasps, ants, and larvae), frogs, and lizards.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
Mexico: March-April, El Salvador: May-June, Guatemala: March-May
INCUBATION PERIOD
18 days
BABY NAME
chick
BABY CARRYING
2 eggs

Resplendent quetzals are monogamous (one male to one female) territorial breeders. They breed seasonally from March to April in Mexico, May to June in El Salvador, and March to May in Guatemala. These birds create their nests over 200 feet (61 m) up in the air and court in the air with specific calls; these include the two-note whistle, gee-gee, wahc-ah-wahc, wec-wec, coouee whistle, uwac, chatter, and buzzing. The first call is related to male territorial behavior, while the 'coouee' whistle is identified as a mating call. Females lay 2 pale blue eggs in a nest placed in a hole which they carve in a rotten tree. Both parents take turns at incubating which lasts about 18 days; during this time 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. Young quetzals begin flying after 3 weeks old but for the males, their long beautiful tail feathers take 3 years to develop.

Population

Population threats

The main threats to Resplendent quetzals include habitat loss, hunting for feathers, and trapping for illegal trade.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Resplendent quetzal is around 20,000-49,999 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Resplendent quetzals feed mainly on fruits and thus play an important role as seed dispersers throughout the ecosystem they live in.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Resplendent quetzal 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).
  • The word "quetzal" came from Nahuatl (Aztec), where 'quetzalli' meant "tall upstanding plume" and then "quetzal tail feather"; from that Nahuatl 'quetzaltotōtl' means "quetzal-feather bird" and thus "quetzal".
  • The skin of the quetzal is very thin and easily torn, so it has evolved thick plumage to protect its skin.
  • Though quetzal plumages appear green, they are actually brown due to the melanin pigment. This is the same pigment that causes tanning in humans.
  • Like other members of the trogon family, quetzal has large eyes that adapt easily to the dim light of its forest home.
  • When the quetzal is in the nest incubating eggs its long tail-covert feathers fold forwards over the back and out of the hole, where they often look like a bunch of fern growing out of the hole.
  • During the incubation period, when a parent approaches the nest hole, they land and rotate their head side to side before entering; this process is known as "bowing in" and ends when the chicks hatch.
  • The quetzal 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.
  • In several Mesoamerican languages, the term for 'quetzal' can also mean precious, sacred, or erected.
  • 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 and the quetzal was his nahual (spirit guide).

References

1. Resplendent Quetzal on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resplendent_quetzal
2. Resplendent Quetzal on The IUCN Red List - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22682727/92958465

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