The quetzal is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world. When you observe it in the wild, perched or flying in its native jungles, it’s hard to disagree. The male is unmistakable thanks to its long tail made up of fine feathers and that exceeds half a meter in length. The chest feathers, deep red in color, contrast with those of the rest of the body. These are emerald green and change color as sunlight hits them or is covered by the chiaroscuro of the forest.
The female is more discreet: her green is duller and she has a much shorter tail. Both the male and the female sport a graceful crest on the head, which makes them look disheveled. Quetzals nest in holes in old trees. Thanks to their short but very strong beak, they dig holes in the logs and remove the wood until it is large enough to get inside.
Vivid red in the ubiquitous green of the jungle
I walk first thing in the morning through a fairytale landscape. My first encounter with a quetzal is blurry, but unforgettable. A male with his very long tail is perched among a maze of branches in a thick area of the jungle. The deep green of the plumage and moss contrasts with its red breast: as red as blood. Its incredible wavy tail looks like it’s not real and blends in with the finer branches.
Soon after, I see another quetzal that feeds on some ripe avocados, the main fruit of this area. It is a humid and thick jungle with large trees and full of lianas. The trunks, from which numerous branches emerge, are full of moss and lichens. The truth is that the landscape rivals the same quetzal in beauty. Later I locate another male and a couple of females. One of them is perched on a branch full of lichen and, if it doesn’t move, it is impossible to know where it is, unless you force yourself with your binoculars. The reward is without a doubt seeing one of the most valuable winged treasures on the planet.
A sacred bird for the Mayans
Having been considered a sacred animal by the Mayan people, it gives the quetzal a mysticism in keeping with its bearing. The long feathers on its tail were an offering worthy of the gods. In Central and South America there are up to five species of quetzal, all of them belong to the genus ‘Pharomachrus’.
The most common species in Central America are the Guatemalan quetzal and the capped quetzal that inhabit the humid mountain forests of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama.