Resplendent Quetzal

  • Resplendent Quetzal
  • Resplendent Quetzal
  • Resplendent Quetzal
  • Resplendent Quetzal
  • Resplendent Quetzal

Ancient Aztec and Maya regarded the Resplendent Quetzal’s bright feathers as objects of power, beauty and adornment. Quetzals are threatened by habitat loss, but many now live safely in protected cloud forests of Central America where they are beloved by bird watchers.


Resplendent Quetzal by David Steadman

The Resplendent Quetzal is certainly one of the world’s most spectacular birds. The emerald-green shades that it has in its plumage, especially those long tail feathers, have impressed people for thousands of years. The Quetzal was important to the Aztec and the Maya. Today the Quetzal represents – maybe more than any other single bird, in the New World anyway, in the Americas – represents conservation of tropical forests.

The Resplendent Quetzal lives in cloud forests from southern Mexico to Panama, anywhere between about 4 to 7,000 feet elevation in these really moist, cloud-laden, very biologically rich forests. The Resplendent Quetzal needs these forests – it can’t live in a field, it can’t live in isolated trees, it can’t really tolerate much of a level of deforestation at all. So the Quetzal has become a flagship species for preserving cloud forests. In various places throughout its range, again from southern Mexico to Panama, where you have tracts of cloud forest that have been preserved mainly as national parks – some as private reserves – the Quetzal population is in fact thriving.

Especially for people from say, North America or Europe or something, to see a Quetzal in the cloud forest in these beautiful, very picturesque settings is quite the thrill of a lifetime. So we really admire the Quetzal for its sheer beauty as well as for its role – obviously not consciously – but for its role in conservation. The Quetzal is also important in these forests for dispersing fruits of trees, so the Quetzal actually helps keep the forest healthy.

David Steadman
Curator, Ornithology
Florida Museum of Natural History


Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus moccino)
From Chiapas, Mexico, 1968

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Resplendent QuetzalRadha Krueger