They are found in forests and woodlands, especially in humid highlands, with the five species from the genus Pharomachrus being exclusively Neotropical, while the single Euptilotis species is almost entirely restricted to Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. They are fairly large (all over 32 cm or 13 inches long), slightly bigger than other trogon species.
Quetzals have iridescent green or golden-green wing coverts, back, chest and head, with a red belly. They are strongly sexually dimorphic, and parts of the females' plumage are brown or grey. These largely solitary birds feed on fruits, berries, insects and small vertebrates (such as frogs). Even with their famous bright plumage, they can be hard to see in their natural wooded habitats.
Unfortunately, these striking birds are threatened in Guatemala and elsewhere throughout their range. They are sometimes trapped for captivity or killed, but their primary threat is the disappearance of their tropical forest homes. In some areas, most notably Costa Rica's cloud forests, protected lands preserve habitat for the birds and provide opportunities for ecotourists and eager bird watchers from around the globe.
The name "quetzal" is from Nahuatl quetzalli [keˈt͡salːi], "large brilliant tail feather" (American Audubon Dictionary) or "tail coverts of the quetzal" (Merriam–Webster's Collegiate Dictionary), from the Nahuatl root quetz = "stand up" used to refer to an upstanding plume of feathers. The word entered English through Spanish.
The word "quetzal" was originally used for just the resplendent quetzal, the long-tailed quetzal of southern Mexico and Central America, which is the national bird and the name of the currency of Guatemala. It still often refers to that bird specifically but now also names all the species of the genera Pharomachrus and Euptilotis.
Pharomachrus is from Ancient Greek pharos, "mantle", and makros, "long", referring to the wing and tail coverts of the resplendent quetzal (the second h is unexplained).
- Genus Pharomachrus:
- Genus Euptilotis:
- Eared quetzal, Euptilotis neoxenus.
Euptilotis neoxenus is related to Pharomachrus and is called the eared quetzal by some authorities, such as the American Ornithologists' Union, but the eared trogon by others.
- Restall, R. L., C. Rodner, & M. Lentino (2006). Birds of Northern South America. Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7136-7243-9 (vol. 1). ISBN 0-7136-7242-0 (vol. 2).
- Ridgely, R. S., & J. A. Gwynne, Jr. (1989). A Guide to the Birds of Panama with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. 2nd edition. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08529-3
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