God of the Air

From the lowland rainforests of La Selva we headed upwards to the cloudforests of the Savegre Valley. We would be at about 7,000 feet in elevation, where the humidity and temperature drops and the oak hillsides reminded me of the rolling green hills of California. In fact some of the same species, band-tailed pigeon and acorn woodpecker, are found in both locations. But we were here to see a species that is not found in California, a species of bird that has been called the most beautiful bird in the world.

This extravagant trogon is the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). The male is an eruption of iridescent green and red and it’s green tail streamers cascade far below the bird.

The quetzal was revered by early Mesoamerican societies. It’s tail streamers were seen as a sign of strength, freedom, and power by the Maya and Aztec people. The quetzal is the national symbol of Guatemala and the nation’s currency is the Quetzal.

We would begin our search before breakfast in the Savegre Valley. I had envisioned hiking up a steep, mist-shrouded, forested canyon trail to a tree at the far end of the canyon where the quetzal was known to roost. In reality, we drove a mile down the road and were now standing by the roadside near an abandoned rock quarry, looking up into some trees with about 50 other quetzal searchers. Each group had their own guide who was armed with binoculars and scope.

IMG_0525The quetzal searchers gather at the roadside rock quarry to wait for the resplendent quetzal to make an appearance.

We didn’t have to wait long as a juvenile quetzal flew into view. The crowd let out a gasp as this was truly a stunning bird. The male sat in view giving the crowd decent looks through the branches.

About 20 yards down the road a guide was on an even more stunning quetzal, this time an adult male with green, flowing tail streamers.

I was able to do quick field sketches of both males which are the featured images to this post. It was one of the few field sketches I was able to complete due to the quick pace of the tour and the quetzal being an obliging subject, they seemed to do a whole lot of nothing except perch in one place for an extended amount of time. Perfect for sketching.


The male juvenile quetzal, lacking the long tail streamers.

How many birds

can you count

in a lifetime?

How many birds

make you gasp

in a lifetime?

Holding your


waiting for

the quetzal

to surface.


feathered gem,

the morning mass

worships together.

An adult male resplendent quetzal with full tail streamers, truly on if the most beautiful birds in the world. 

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