Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)

All birds are beautiful in one way or another but the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is spectacularly gorgeous!   They look like little gods come down to earth and when you see one, you will wonder if you should be worshiping it or photographing it.

IMG_1092aThe Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is a bird in the trogon family. It is found from southern Mexico to western Panama (unlike the other quetzals of the genus Pharomachrus, which are found in South America and eastern Panama). It is well known for its colorful plumage. There are two subspecies, P. m. mocinno and P. m. costaricensis.

This quetzal plays an important role in Mesoamerican mythologies. The Resplendent Quetzal is Guatemala’s national bird, and an image of it is on the flag and coat of arms of Guatemala. It is also the name of the local currency (abbreviation GTQ).

In ancient Mayan culture, the quetzal bird’s tail feathers were used as currency.  The Resplendent Quetzal was considered divine, associated with the “snake god”, Quetzalcoatl by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations. Its iridescent green tail feathers, symbols for spring plant growth, were venerated by the ancient Aztecs and Maya, who viewed the quetzal as the “god of the air” and as a symbol of goodness and light. Mesoamerican rulers and some nobility of other ranks wore headdresses made from quetzal feathers, symbolically connecting them to Quetzalcoatl. Since it was a crime to kill a quetzal, the bird was simply captured, its long tail feathers plucked, and was set free. Quetzalcoatl was the creator god and god of wind, often depicted with grey hair. In several Mesoamerican languages, the term for quetzal can also mean precious, sacred, or erected.


Their habitat is montane cloud forest from Southern Mexico to Panama.  I was lucky enough to see them in 2 locations in Costa Rica – Monteverde & Savegre/San Gerardo de Dota.  Use your airline miles to get to Central America, then use shuttles or public transport to get to these locations.

Red dots are Monteverde & Savegre in Costa Rica

Mature male with fully grown tail feathers