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Trogons, Quetzals

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Very colorful, medium-size, upright-perching, long-tailed birds

Trogons inhabit the tropics worldwide. Ten species are found in Costa Rica, and the most famous is undoubtedly the resplendent quetzal (quetzal; Pharomachrus mocinno), perhaps one of the most dazzling and culturally important birds of Central America. It had great ceremonial significance to the Aztecs and the Mayas and is now the national bird and symbol of Guatemala.

The resplendent quetzal is extremely difficult to keep in captivity, where it usually dies quickly, which is perhaps why it beca me a symbol of liberty to Central Americans during the colonial period. The male lives up to its name with glittering green plumage set off by a crimson belly, and white tail feathers contrasting with bright green tail coverts stream over 60cm beyond the bird's body.

The head feathers stick out in a spiky green helmet through which the yellow bill peeks coyly. The male tries to impress the duller-colored female by almost vertical display flights during which the long tail coverts flutter sensuously. A glimpse of this bird is the highlight of many birders' trips. The quetzal (pronounced 'ket-SAI:) is fairly common from 1300 to 3000m in forested or partially forested areas. Locals will usually know where to find one; good places to look are Monteverde and various areas in southern Costa Rica. The March to June breeding season is the easiest time to see the birds. At other times, they are less active and quite wary, in common with all the trogons.

The other nine species of Costa Rican trogons are boldly colored - green and red, blue and red, blue and yellow, and green and yellow are typical combinations for the body, usually with a black-and-white or gray tail. Although they are not uncommon, they sit quietly, motionless on mid-Ievel branches in the forest and, despite their bright colors, are hard to spot. Their calls, which vary from gruff barks to elear whistled notes, are the best way to locate them. This is when a good local bird guide can be invaluable.

Picture 1, Trogons, Costa RicaPicture 2, Trogons, Costa Rica
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