Cloud forest and montane forests of Central America. Range from Southern Mexico to Panama.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Mexico to Panama
Size: 14 in. (35cm) from bill to base of tail. Males' magnificent tail can be up to as much as 3ft. (90cm) long. Excluding tail, the length of the quetzal is comparable in size to a Magpie, Grosbeak, or Pigeon.
(Grolier 1996, Grzimek 1972)
Coloration: The most extravagant feature of the male quetzal is its iridescent tail plumes, which can add up to 3 ft. to the birds length. The head, neck, chest, back and wings of the males are a metallic green, while the breast and belly are bright crimson. The male has a distinct tuft of bristly upstanding golden green feathers on top of his head, forming a crestlike structure.
The female quetzal is very similar in color, yet far less conspicuous than males. The head of the female ranges from smoky-gray to bronze tinged with green at the edgings. The breast is sometimes gray or a muted shade of red far less vibrant than the males. Often the brilliant green that the males display is replaced with browns and buff tones in the female.
(Grolier 1996, Middleton and Perrins 1985, Skutch and Stiles 1989, Skutch 1983)
Feet: The feet of the quetzal are very unusual, yet quintessential to the Trogon family. They have olive-gray colored feet with four toes on each foot (two in front and two in back). The first and second toes have been shifted to the rear, while the third and fourth are directed forward. This makes their feet very weak and the first and second toes immovable.
(Birkhead and Brooke 1991, Grzimek 1972, Skutch and Stiles 1989)
Skin: The skin of Pharomachrus mocino is very flimsy, thin and quite easily torn. Because of the fragile skin, feathers fall out excessively while being prepared in museums. Rapid fading of feather colors also make the quetzal a poor species for display.
(Birkhead and Brooke 1991)
Beak: The beak of the quetzal is significant to the name of its order and family; Trogon meaning gnawing in Greek. The quetzal's beak is fairly short although very powerful. The male bird has a yellow beak while the female's is black. Males and females use their small beaks primarily for nesting and gnawing.
(Grzimek 1972, Skutch and Stiles 1989)
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Talamancan Montane Forests Habitat
This taxon occurs in the Talamancan montane forests, an ecoregion situated along the mountainous spine of the Cordillera Talamanca within Costa Rica and Panama. These forests represent one of Central America’s most intact habitats. The steep slopes, remoteness and relatively cool temperatures have limited the impact of agriculture and human development in most of this area.
This region exhibits considerable floral and faunal species diversity, many of which taxa are endemic. Over 30 percent of the ecoregion's flora, including over 10,000 vascular and 4000 non-vascular plant species, are endemic to this area, as are a number of fauna species. Nearly 75 percent of original forest cover remains intact, with forty percent protected by national and international parks.
The rainfall and temperature in this area of Central America is a direct result of the elevation and orientation north or south side of the mountain range. The average temperature and rainfall for this part of Costa Rica varies from 25°C and 2000 millimetres (mm) at the Caribbean Sea level to –8° C and >6000 mm at the highest peaks including Cerro Chirripo, the highest point in southern Central America at 3820 m. The high humidity and precipitation (which averages between 2500 and 6500 mm annually), steep slopes, and cool temperatures have limited agricultural and urban development, making these highland moist forests one of Central America's most intact ecosystems.
The forest habitats of this ecoregion include Atlantic slope "aseasonal" rainforest, Pacific slope seasonally dry but mostly evergreen forest, and "perpetually dripping cloud forest" on the mountain tops, above approximately 1500 m. The high annual rainfall, wind-blown mist, and frequent presence of clouds, probably the most outstanding characteristic of these montane forests, produce a lush, dense forest with a broken canopy and high species diversity. Abundant epiphytes cover tree branches, and tree ferns are common. Dominant tree groups include the Lauraceae family, especially in the northern section of the ecoregion, and endemic oaks (Quercus spp.), especially in the south. The unique oak forest stands in this ecoregion are characterized by majestic, tall trees (up to 50 m tall), heavily dominated by two species: Quercus costaricensis and Q. copeyensis, while Magnolia, Drymis, and Weinmannia are also important tree elements. The understory is characterized by the presence of several species of dwarf bamboo (Chusquea). Higher peaks and ridges exposed to moisture-laden trade winds support an elfin, or dwarf forest characterized by thick mats of bryophytes covering short, dense gnarled trees.
Seismically induced phenomena, volcanism, and landslides (triggered by torrential rains or earthquakes) are the major natural disturbances influencing the montane forest units within the Talamancan Range. The resulting steep slopes and nutrient-deficient soils insure that this ecoregion harbors some of the most intact in Central America. The La Amistad International Park, one of the largest reserves in Central America, consists of over 400,000 hectares of relatively intact montane forest. These larger blocks of intact forest are essential for preserving remnant populations of harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja) and they protect breeding grounds of threatened and endangered birds endemic to the highland forests of this ecoregion, such as: resplendent quetzal (Pharomacrus mocinno), three-wattled bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), bare-necked umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis), and black guan (Chamaepetes unicolor). The first three of these birds migrate seasonally to lower elevations, demonstrating the importance of not only maintaining intact highland habitats but also connecting them to neighboring intact middle and lower elevations. In fact, over 65 (or over ten percent) of the bird species found here migrate altitudinally.
The Atlantic middle elevations also contain some of the most rare species of butterflies Central America, as well as some of the world's highest butterfly species richness. Populations of crested eagle and painted parakeet were recently discovered in Cerro Hoya on the Azuero Peninsula.
Habitat and Ecology
The Quetzal is a relatively inactive bird who lives among lush vegetation, in very moist rainforest zones. They often choose high mountain ranges (4,000-10,00 ft.) that are cool. They live in the trees that form the canopy of the rainforest. Pharomachrus mocino prefers to inhabit decaying trees, stumps, and sometimes old woodpecker hollows. The biosterously loud colors of the quetzal are somewhat camouflaged by their natural habitat in the rainforest.
(Grolier 1996, Grzimek 1972, Skutch 1983)
Terrestrial Biomes: rainforest
The quetzal is preferentially a frugivore, yet it often must commit to omnivorous practices. The favored fruits and berries of the quetzal are produced by the laurel family, whose fruits resemble miniature avocados. The aguacatillo is an example of a laurel fruit in the quetzal's diet. Quetzals maintain a mutualistic relationship with the laurel family, as the plants depend on the bird to disperse seeds in their droppings. Many birds may meet at one tree at the same time. The Ira Rose Tree is a common source of food for quetzals. When fruits are not available the quetzal resorts to eating a variety of foods such as insects, small frogs, and lizards. The quetzal is a great hunter: it swoops down and grasps its food (prey, or fruit) and engulfs it while in the air.
(http, Skutch 1983, Skutch and Stiles 1989)
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Breeding: The breeding season of the quetzal is from March to June. During this time males perform courtship dances, calls and loud singing in order to attract females. The male's call during this season sounds like "very-good very-good." Quetzals are hole-brooders that use their beaks to excavate holes in decaying bark, but they do not fill the brood with nesting materials such as thatch or leaves, they simply deposit their clutches on the bare floor of the chamber. Both male and female quetzals assist in the nest building. These simple nests are usually located 15-45 ft. from ground level, and are about 4-4 1/2 in. (10-11.4cm) in diameter.
Once a pair is established and the two have built a nest together, they mate inside the chamber. The female lays her eggs, usually two, on the floor of the chamber. The eggs are light-blue, globular in shape, and 35x30mm. Parental care is exhibited by both quetzals, during the incubation period of 17-18 days. The pair shares incubation duties, separating the times of day each cares for the clutch. The female broods during the night and midday, while the male broods in early morning and late afternoon. It was throught by native people that the quetzal built two entrances to the chamber so the male would not damage his fabulous plumes during incubation, but this idea has been discarded because male quetzals are often seen with tattered tails during mating season.
(Grolier 1996, Gzimek 1972, Skutch 1983, Skutch and Stiles 1989)
Hatchlings: After about 17-18 days, the quetzals eggs hatch exposing naked hatchlings with closed eyes and a white egg tooth near the tip of the upper mandible. The eyes remained closed for the entire first week after hatching. The hatchlings develop rapidly, and by two weeks they are profusely covered with feathers excluding their heads. The feathers of the young quetzal are very soft and pale in tone. They closely resemble the female in her muted tones of grays and dull greens. The young birds also lack the traces of crimson on the breast that both adult birds possess. During the first week the hatchlings are fed almost exclusively insects by both parents. Any debris or waste from hatchlings is removed from the chamber and the nest is kept very clean. When the young reach about two weeks of age, fruits and small vertebrates (frogs, lizards, and snails) are introduced to them. The nestlings stay in brooding chamber, and under the care of their parents for approximately three weeks, with the parents feeding them alternately as demonstrated in incubation. The juvenile birds approach the entrance of the chamber at about three weeks, and soon they are taught to fly usually by the male bird. The male feeds and tends to the bird which attempts to fly first, and the second is usually ignored until it too flies from the nest. Soon after, the birds can fly with confidence and they leave the nest permanently. The young birds, however, continue to spend time with their parents. The juvenile quetzals do not develop their vibrant colors for some time and male quetzals do not fully develop their plumes for three years.
(Grzimek 1972, Skutch 1983)
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Near Threatened (NT)
- Near Threatened (NT)
- Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
- Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
- Threatened (T)