Return of Bird of the Week: Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal Male, Costa Rica

A supremely lovely bird; the most beautiful, all things considered, that I have ever seen. He owes his beauty to the intensity and arresting contrast of his coloration, the resplendent sheen and glitter of his plumage, the elegance of his ornamentation, the symmetry of his form, and the noble dignity of his carriage.

Alexander Skutch, Life history of the Quetzal, Condor. 46: 213-235 (1944)

This is, for WC, the most beautiful bird in the world. WC has only seen the species twice, and only gotten a photo the second time. It was a mess. WC’s tripod had jammed, and could only be used as a monopod. The bird was badly backlit, and the wind was making that breathtaking tail flutter all over the place. WC has reprocessed the image for this post, but it’s still a little soft.1 Even so, this comes reasonably close to capturing the sublime beauty of this bird.

It’s not just WC and Skutch who have a high opinion of the species. Everyone from Aztec emperors to Spanish conquistadors to early ornithologists to market hunters seeking those gorgeous feather all agree. Illegal collectors are just one of the threats facing the Resplendent Quetzal.

Resplendent Quetzal Female, Costa Rica

The female is easily the most colorful of the female Trogons, and a beauty in her own right. In attempting to photograph her, all the problems but the tail plagued WC again. And she insisted on partially hiding, and then flew off after less than a minute.

This species is threatened by both habitat loss and fragmentation and illegal collectors. Its range extends from southern Mexico to Panama, but is limited to 1,000-3,300 meters in elevation, although in non-breeding season it may be a bit wider. Seasonal movements are believed to be tied to the distribution and fruiting of the wild avocado, a food source to which the species is closely tied. While it will travel outside of mature forest to forage, it’s unclear whether that is a consequence of human alteration of the forests or a wholly natural behavior.

It’s primarily a fruit eater, but will take insects and small vertebrates when feeding its young. It takes most food on the wing, plucking fruit or grabbing insects in flight, and then eating from a mid-story perch. They seem to require a fairly large home range, 15-25 acres, with the size determined by the number of fruiting trees.

Resplendent Quetzals nest in cavities they excavate in rotting trees, generally in the middle story. There are two eggs. Incubation is shared by the male and female, as is brooding and feeding. Incubation is for 17-19 days. The young fledge in 18-21 days.

Resplendent Quetzals breed twice a year, but the nest failure rate is very high, 67-78%. The net result is a slowly declining population, although there is no recent data. The IUCN describes the species as Near Threatened.

For more bird photographs, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

This is the final Trogon species for which WC has decent photos. We’ll move to a different family of birds next Saturday.

1 Every photographer has stories of times their equipment let them down at the worst possible moment. This was WC’s worst-timed equipment failure. The situation absolutely required a tripod, and the adjustment knob on the ball head was absolutely jammed. The Olympus E-5 was really bad at acquiring autofocus in low light, so WC was focusing manually. The wind was blowing branches into the line of sight and making the tail move all over. Seriously, WC wouldn’t wish the frustration on an enemy. WC finally “fixed” the jammed ball head by hammering it with a rock, thereby voiding the warranty. But by then the birds had flown off.

3 thoughts on “Return of Bird of the Week: Resplendent Quetzal

  1. Hearstoppingly gorgeous! I can only imagine that seeing it in the wild would have taken my breath away. As for the ball head, well, I doubt I would ever have taken a rock to one, but that sort of frustration is why I gave up ball heads for gimbals some years ago. Nevertheless the result was well worth it.


  2. Once was a fellow named Jim,
    Whose photo equipment abandoned him.
    While tracking a Quetzal,
    It went right to hell,
    And he complained that the light was too dim.

    Damn, the older I get and the more I try to create clever Limericks, the worse they get.
    Jim, your photos and that bird are stunning. Keep up your never-ending quest for perfection.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.