RESPLENDENT QUETZAL


RESPLENDENT QUETZAL (PHAROMACHRUS MOCINNO), Quetzal The name is exotic. The bird is exotic. A member of the trogon family, the resplendent quetzal was a symbol of freedom and independence to some indigenous Central American peoples. It thrives in Costa Rica.

Travelers are more likely to see it here than in Guatemala, where the quetzal is the national bird, because of the protected forests at its home elevations: 5,000 to 10,000 feet (1,524 to 3,048 m) in the Central and Talamanca ranges; above 4,000 feet (1,219 in) in the Tilaran Cordillera.

Monteverde is a famous locale for this fantastic iridescent bird with its shimmering green head, neck, and body, and its crimson belly. The male has graceful tail streamers more than 2 feet (.6 in) long. While the female's barred black-and-white tail and duller crimson belly cannot match the male's magnificence, she is regal. Depending on light, quetzal feathers can shine in shades of blue. Braulio Carrillo, Poas and Chirripo National Parks and areas around them are also home to the quetzal: some birders say the easiest place to see quetzals is near San Gerardo de Doa off the Inter-American Highway before Cerro de la Muerte, where they live year-round. Quetzals are usually solitary or in pairs, though several can gather in a fruiting area.

The birds depend heavily on fruit from wild relatives of the avocado, in the laurel family. At Monteverde, quetzals move seasonally, apparently following fruiting patterns; they become altitudinal migrants facing peril as they move away from protected lands. As reserves become isolated by deforested land, survival of migrating species such as this one is jeopardized.

As quetzals depend on laurels, laurel trees depend on quetzals to distribute their seeds. The birds swallow the fruit whole and cough up the seed after digesting the nutritious pulp-quetzals' intestines are too small to allow the large seeds to pass. The seed falls to the ground below the bird's perch, with a chance to take root.

Breeding period is March to June, peaking in April and May. This is the easiest time to see quetzals because they come down lower in the trees to nest, making do with a hole already hollowed out by a woodpecker or excavating space in rotting limbs or dead tree trunks with their short bills. the Female generally lays two blue eggs, which hatch about 18 days later. as soon as the first babies fly away, she lays eggs again. Both male and female take part in building the nest, incubating eggs (parts of the male's per tail streamers sometimes protrude from the hole when it is his turn the lie nest), and feeding young. Though adults are primarily fruit-eaters, first they feed offspring insects and small lizards to supply the proteins needed for rapid growth. After August the male sheds his by-now-tattered streamers and grows new ones.

The main predators of eggs and chicks are short-tailed weasels, toucanets, tayras and perhaps snakes, but the quetzal also faces great threat from loss of trees for feeding and nesting.
If you expect such a colorful bird to be easy to spot, think again. Like other members of the trogon family, quetzals tend to sit still for long periods. IN greens blend in with surrounding leaves, the male's long streamers can look like fern fronds, and red bellies could be distant flowers. Go with a guide who knows how to spot a resplendent quetzal; once you see one, it's Easier to find others.

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