The resplendent quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala. It is endemic to Central America from Chiapas in Mexico to Panama. Unlike other members of the quetzal family, the resplendent quetzal has a colorful plumage. It is unofficially known as "The Rare Jewel Bird of the World” and the is culturally associated with Quetzalcoatl; the snake god. The quetzal is an important aspect of the Guatemalan identity; it appears on the coat of arms, flag, postage stamps, currency, and souvenirs. The ancient Maya people considered the bird sacred and featured it in legends and artwork. The colorful feathers of the bird were worn by priests and royals during cultural and religious ceremonies. It was forbidden for the Maya to kill the resplendent quetzal. Quetzals represent liberty in Guatemala and other Central American countries.
Description of the Resplendent Quetzal
The resplendent quetzal is about 14–16 inches but males have a tail streamer that can reach up to 26 inches long.The bird has a green body with an iridescence from green-gold to blue-violet. The feathers show a variant of colors depending on the light including cobalt, green, lime, ultramarine, and yellow. Although the plumage appears to be green it is actually brown because of the melanin pigment.
Distribution and Habitat
The resplendent quetzals are found in Guatemala, southern Mexico, El Salvador, northern Nicaragua, Honduras, western Panama, and Costa Rica. There are no wild populations of these birds outside Central America. The bird prefers a habitat that consists of montane evergreen forest with little human interference. In Costa Rica, they are found in habitats with existing fruit-bearing trees, especially the wild avocado.
Relation With Humans
The primary threat to this birds is the conversion of its natural habitat to livestock and agricultural land, logging, and climate change. In parts of southern Mexico, they are hunted or captured for feathers and sale as pets. The ancient Maya people captured the birds but released them back into the wild after plucking some feathers that were worn by royals and priests during ceremonial functions. European bird hunters sold the skins of the resplendent quetzals to museums and fashionistas. Most of the birds that were captured and kept as pets died because of poor treatment. It was noted that resplendent quetzal killed itself when caged or captured and it is for this reason that the bird is considered a symbol of liberty.
Conservation of Guatemala's National Bird
The IUCN lists the resplendent quetzal as a near threatened species. There are between 20,000 and 50,000 birds in the wild. Deforestation is the primary causes for the decline in the numbers although climate change is forcing the birds to move to unnatural habitats. Conservationists advocate for legislation to prevent the destruction of habitats and the criminalization of hunting and petting of this bird.