Saturday, September 15, 2007

Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)

(c) 2007, Tom Lera

The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), the brilliant bird found in the cloud forests of Central America, was sacred to the Mayans and figures prominently in their artwork and legends. The name "quetzal" is from Mayan quetzalli which means "large brilliant tail feather" Today the Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, and name to the Guatemalan currency.
Despite its legendary history, the Quetzal is in danger of extinction, partly due to hunting of the bird for food and trade, but mainly due to destruction of its elevated habitat to clear land for subsistence agriculture. Some countries, such as Costa Rica, have managed to preserve the Quetzal's (as well as other species) habitat by setting aside land for national parks to promote eco-tourism.
The Quetzal, reputed to be the most beautiful bird that exists in the American continents, belongs to the Trogan family. The iridescent color of its plumage appears green or blue, according to the changes of daytime light. It lives in the mountainous, subtropical, humid regions. The vegetation of the territory it inhabits is quite dense and rich in humus. In this habitat, the Quetzal searches for an old tree trunk situated in a tiny forest clearing to make its nest. Finding them together in the jungle is a rare experience as the birds do not make a lot of noise and they sit very quietly on the branches looking for insects. (see photo)
From February through April, the hen lays one or two eggs. Both the hen and cock take turns during the 18-day period of incubation. The male Quetzal enters the nest, always leaving his beautiful tail plumes outside so as not to injure them. The female doesn't have this problem, for her tail feathers are very short. After the birth of the nestlings, their parents feed them with worms, insects, and larvae. The adults will eat forest fruits. The young can fly 20 days after birth, and abandon the nest to fly freely through the skies.

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