QUETZAL

Scientific Name: Pharomachrus mocinno

The Quetzal has been said to be most beautiful bird in the world.

The Quetzal (pronounced ket-sal), makes its nest about 20-40 feet off the ground, where the birds will lay its eggs and raise its young.
The growing chicks are fed mostly small invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles, but begin to eat fruit as they mature. Less than 20 percent of the young survive to leave the nest. Toucans, jays, squirrels, and weasels are some of the predators that young quetzals have to avoid.


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The Quetzal’s tail feathers are what make this bird so unique. Their tail feathers can grow to be over 2 feet in length (that’s about three times the bird’s body length!)


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The Quetzal is the symbol of liberty in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, much like the Bald Eagle is to the United States

The beauty of the Resplendent Quetzal has been admired for centuries. It was an important element of early Central American mythology, and Aztec royalty wore headdresses with the beautiful tail feathers on them. Guatemalans so revere the Quetzal that they chose it as the national bird, and even named their money the "quetzal".

In the Costa Rican cloudforests, Quetzals primarily eat wild avocados . The fruits, which can be as big as a pear, are swallowed whole. The avacado’s large seeds are often regurgitated at some distance from the source tree. Because Quetzals are among the only frugivorous (fruit-eating) birds able to eat these large fruits, it is thought that the wild avocados rely on the Quetzal to spread the avacado seeds. Thus, Quetzals and wild avocado trees both need each other. In science we call this relationship between two organisms a symbiotic relationship, meaning that both the organisms win.

The name quetzal is an ancient Mayan term for tail feather, and the bird itself represents liberty. Ancient people believed the Quetzal would not survive in captivity, it would rather die than be held prisoner. So rather than killing these birds for their feathers, the Maya would pluck them and set the birds free to grow new feathers. Unfortunately this has since proved false and Quetzals can be viewed in zoos throughout the world.

Due to habitat loss and over-hunting, the Quetzal is becoming harder to view in the wild. But, the more we learn about these birds, the more we can appreciate them and protect them from extinction.


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The tail feathers of a male quetzal were once used as money as far north as New Mexico and as far south as the Andes. Because of their value as money, it was forbidden by the Mayans to kill a Quetzal.

Dave Freeman is the Executive Director of the Wilderness Classroom. Dave and Amy Freeman have traveled over 30,000 miles by kayak, canoe and dogsled through some of the world’s wildest places. National Geographic named the Dave and Amy Adventurers of the Year in 2014.

When the Freemans aren’t on expeditions or conducting school assemblies, they guide canoe, kayak and dogsled trips.

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