The Resplendent Quetzal is a rare bird found in Central America from Panama to the south of Mexico. While the term quetzal once meant only the Resplendent Quetzal, it now applies to other species such as the Golden-headed Quetzal and others. However, the word "quetzal" still refers specifically to the Resplendent Quetzal.
The Quetzal is found mainly in the cloud forests of Central America. The bird was important to the Mayan culture and it is often found in its art and stories. The Quetzal is also the national bird of Guatemala and they named their currency after the bird. The Quetzal is an endangered species. Though it has been protected in Costa Rica, in other Central American countries the Quetzal is in danger because of hunting and destruction of its habitat.
The Quetzal is a long bird that can have a tail of up to 25 inches long. They usually weigh about 7 ounces. The Quetzal has green plumage on its body with red coloration on the breast. They have long wings and during breeding season, the male's tail becomes brightly colored. Males have yellow beaks while the females have black beaks. The Quetzal has large eyes that aid vision in low-light jungles.
Location and Diet
The Quetzal prefers to live in a mountainous (elevations of 4,000 to 10,000 feet) and humid area with thick vegetation. They use old tree trunks to build their nests. When not breeding, the Quetzal is a solitary bird. Although they mainly eat fruit, the Quetzal will also eat wasps, ants and frogs. The two most important parts of the Quetzal diet are avocadoes and fruit of the laurel. They will swallow this fruit whole and then later regurgitate the pits.
The breeding period for the Quetzal is between February and April. The Quetzal will typically lay one or two eggs. Incubation takes 18 days and both the male and the female take turns sitting on the nest. Since the male cannot fit his tail in the nest, he must leave the plumes outside while sitting on his eggs. When the babies are born, the parents feed them small insects. The young will stay in the nest for 20 days.
The Quetzal symbolizes freedom because it will kill itself if kept in captivity. Despite this tendency, a zoo in Mexico has some of these birds alive. The Mayas and Aztecs honored the bird's iridescent coloration and considered it the "God of the Air." Mayan and Aztec rulers would wear headdresses made of Quetzal feathers. One legend of the Mayas says the Quetzal used to sing before the Spanish conquered Latin America but has been silent ever since.