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A quetzal chick looks out from a hollow jungle tree. Photo byquapan/CC BY 2.0

Exploring Nature: The Quetzal

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Guatemala really honors one particular bird — the resplendent quetzal. Not only is it the national bird, Guatemala named its banknote the quetzal, much as we named ours the dollar.

The quetzal also adorns the national flag of Guatemala and is on the badge of the national soccer team.

So this is a bird much honored in its home territory. And I can see why. It is a most beautiful bird; the male is a vibrant green with splashes of black and turquoise, plus a brilliant red breast. Its magnificent tail is over 2 feet long. Males have a bright yellow bill while females have a matte black bill.

The ancient Maya venerated the quetzal as a “god of the air” and while it was never killed, the natives did capture the bird and pull out its colorful tail feathers for decorative use.

I saw quetzals in Guatemala and our guide said they loved eating wild avocados, which they swallow whole. He also said they ate insects, frogs and lizards.

I was impressed by the brilliant colors of the bird and especially by the long tail streamers on the male bird. The colors blended in well with the forest canopy.

The largest member of the trogon family, the resplendent quetzal is found from southern Mexico down to western Panama. It is well worth the trip to see this lovely bird.

San Marcos Record

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