Quetzal: A word taken from the Aztec word quetzalli, meaning precious or beautiful. This aptly describes this beautiful bird. In the 1500’s when Cortez arrived in Mexico, he recived a headress made of quetzal feathers. These were usually reserved for Aztec royalty. The beautiful plumes were considered more precious than gold.
Today the quetzals habitat runs from Mexico to Panama. It can be found in altitudes of 4,000 to 10,000 feet in lush cloud forests. The quetzal is listed as an endangered species. They have been hunted for their beautiful feathers and some have been captured to be sold as pets. Their habitat is also in danger because of deforestation, though they do enjoy some legal protection.
Spotting a quetzal in the wild can be a challange. They are difficult to see because they blend right in to their enviroment , and are a bit shy. Their soft call resembles the whimpering of a puppy and with some patience you can call one to you. Their spectacular plumage is worth seeing. Their breast is a deep scarlet red and contrasts with its jade green feathers. Its tail can be up to 24 inches long and is very beautiful with white and green feathers. Seeing one can sometimes take a couple of trips into the forest.
To increase your chances of success try going to see them between March and June. This is the quetzal’s nesting season. During nesting season they may raise two broods wth two chicks in each brood. Only about 25% of the chicks hatch and grow to maturity. The other 75% are lost to predators, flooding, or collapsing nests. The quetzals favorite food is the wild avacados and they will even migrate to diffrent places in search of a new crop. These birds are truly amazing.
Quetzals are magnificent creatures. Seeing on in the wild is a truly extraordinary experience. Perhaps a visit to the cloud forests of Central America to see a quetzal is a vacation you should consider.