The Resplendent Quetzal

Large brilliant tail feather— Quetzali. That’s how the Aztec people referred to this magnificent bird, the resplendent quetzal. With its stunning emerald green and red plumage, long tail feathers, and golden crest, the resplendent quetzal is an important symbol in Central America’s indigenous cultures, where only the nobility and priests were allowed to wear quetzal feathers in religious ceremonies.

Royal Tail Feathers: A Mark of a Good Catch 

During mating season, male quetzals grow twin tail feathers that form an amazing train up to three feet (one meter) long. They also put on quite a performance, flying back and forth between trees and calling out to attract a mate.
Their reproductive period typically falls between March and June. Both male and female quetzals play active roles in every aspect of reproduction, from egg-laying to caring for the young once they leave the nest. Males primarily incubate during the day, while females take over at night. After an incubation period of around three weeks, the babies hatch from their eggs.

How and When to See the Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica?

The Resplendent Quetzal, one of the most spectacular birds in the world, can be found in cloud forests stretching from southern Mexico to Costa Rica and western Panama, with Costa Rica being a  really good location for sightings. Quetzal thrives in Costa Rica’s protected national parks and reserves, where healthy populations exist. However, despite their stunning beauty, spotting a Quetzal can be quite challenging. Here are some helpful tips to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary creature.

Visit the Right Habitat, and You’re Halfway There

Increase your chances of spotting the resplendent quetzal, but spending a few days in one of the cloud forests in Central America. They prefer to live at altitudes of 4,000 – 10,000 ft (1,200 – 3,000 m). In Costa Rica, one of the options is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve,  home to an abundance of biodiversity, including the resplendent quetzal. Alternatively, head to the San Gerardo de Dota area, known for its stunning natural beauty and birdwatching opportunities. 

Discover the Quetzal's Call: A Key to Finding the Resplendent Beauty

Once you’re strolling through the cloud forest, you may completely miss on a quetzal, as these are quite stealth creatures that can keep still for long periods of time. However, by actively listening for their whistled calls and captivating songs, you significantly increase your likelihood of spotting them on your birding expedition.

Near Threatened, Quetzals Are Finding A Refuge in Nature Reserves

The resplendent quetzal is considered a near threatened species due to habitat loss and poaching.
However, there are efforts underway to protect these birds and their habitat. In fact, many national parks and reserves in Costa Rica have been established to safeguard the cloud forests where the birds live. You can support conservation efforts by participating in eco-friendly tourism activities while also enjoying the beauty of this incredible bird.

Fun Facts About Resplendent Quetzal

  • The resplendent quetzal is named after the Aztec word "quetzalli," which means "large brilliant tail feather." This is a nod to the bird's stunning iridescent green tail feathers.
  • The resplendent quetzal is actually a type of trogon, a family of birds found in the tropical regions of the world. There are about 40 species of trogons worldwide.
  • It is one of the few bird species in the world where the female is larger than the male. In fact, the females can be up to 50% larger than the males!
  • They typically build their nests in the hollows of decaying trees, and the females will lay up to two eggs at a time.
  • They are frugivorous birds, which means that they primarily eat fruit. Some of its favorite foods include wild avocado, figs, and berries.
  • These birds are not strong fliers, and they are rarely seen on the ground. Instead, they prefer to perch or hop about in the trees. 
  • Quetzals are crepuscular, meaning that they are usually only active during twilight hours.
If you're interested in planning a trip to Costa Rica to see the quetzal, talk to our travel experts who can help you create the perfect itinerary. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Resplendent Quetzal

Are there quetzals in Costa Rica? 

Yes, Quetzal’s natural habitat spans from south of Mexico to Panama. However, Costa Rica is one of the best places to see this bird in the wild due to its protected cloud forests and conservation efforts.

What is the best time of the year to see a quetzal?

The best season to see the resplendent quetzal is from December to April, during the dry season, when the birds are more active and easier to spot. However, you can still see them during the rainy season, from May to November.

How long can a quetzal live?

Quetzal has the average lifespan of 3 to 10 years, and some sub species have a life span of 3 to 5 years. They mate for life.
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