quetzal is considered by many people as the aerial animal most beautiful in the world. They are medium-sized birds that live in the mountainous and tropical forests of Central America. There are six species of quetzal. They are best known for the extremely striking colors in their plumage and the long tail feathers of the males. Read on to learn about the quetzal.

Image of a quetzal and its plumage

A quetzal showing its long tail


The quetzal is quite a crouching bird, with a robust appearance. Its most striking feature is its coloration, since its plumage is a combination of bright blues, greens and reds. The main body feathers are metallic green or blue in color, with a vibrant red breast and belly. The feathers under the tail are sometimes a contrasting white.

Both males and females have these colors, but those of males tend to be more vivid, and the colors of females sometimes include grays or browns. In some species, the male and female have different colors, that is, they are "sexually dimorphic." Its beak is bright yellow. Males grow twin tail feathers that are up to 1 meter long, and males of some species have a golden-green crest on their heads.


They usually live in holes in trees, near the top of the forest canopy layer. Sometimes they hollow out these holes themselves, but often they use holes that have been hollowed out by woodpeckers and abandoned. Quetzal are mostly solitary, and they are twilight, which means that they are most active during the twilight hours.

They are not strong fliers and rarely descend to the ground, in part because their feet are highly adapted for perching and jumping in trees. They are territorial and, although they are generally quiet birds, at dawn and dusk they make whistling songs to announce their possession of an area.


The quetzal lives in humid tropical forests, or humid forests in mountainous regions of Central America. They prefer to live at altitudes of 1.200 to 3.000 m.


Its distribution is limited to Central America


They are considered specialists in eating fruits. However, they supplement their diet with insects, lizards, frogs, and other small animals, making them omnivores.


The quetzal's beautiful feathers make a good camouflage in the forest, but it is not a strong flier; it moves by jumping from branch to branch, becoming a target for predators.

Common natural predators of quetzals include kinkajou, gray and red-bellied squirrels, osprey, and other birds. The young are also preyed upon by toucans, jays, squirrels, and weasels. In 1983, zoologist Nathaniel Wheelwright estimated that the nest was not high, and attributed this to the long-tailed weasel, along with squirrels and emerald toucans. He believed that snakes, blowflies, and other animals could invade nests but not attack adult quetzals.

Image of a flying quetzal

A beautiful quetzal soaring and showing its red on its chest.


The quetzal matures sexually between approximately 5 and 6 years of age. Before their first mating season (March to June), males grow twin tail feathers that develop into a surprising train up to 1 meter long. They do not grow these feathers until they are at least 3 years old. During courtship, the female often mirrors the male's movements.

After mating, the eggs are laid in a pre-drilled nest made by a woodpecker, or the pair make their own drilled nest in a rotten tree or stump, using their powerful beaks. Hole nests are generally about 10 meters above the ground. The female lays 2 to 3 eggs, which both the male and female incubate in turns for approximately 17 to 18 days, until they hatch. The young quetzal can fly (leave the nest) around the third week of age.

State of conservation

According to the IUCN Red List (BirdLife International 2009), the conservation status of the Resplendent Quetzal is evaluated as Near Threatened. It is believed to be experiencing a "moderately rapid population decline" due to deforestation.

BirdLife International calls for more monitoring to better establish population estimates and trends. In addition, it was suggested that conservation actions include monitoring habitat loss and degradation, as well as protecting habitat corridors and high and low elevation forests that it inhabits.

Relationship with humans

Due to their wonderful appearance and scarcity, quetzal are a popular tourist attraction for bird watchers in some places. They are sometimes caught to be kept as pets, or for captive tourist attractions, which has drastically reduced their numbers. The main threat to these birds is deforestation and the fragmentation of the tropical forests in which they live.


They have not been successfully domesticated, they are not very adaptable to a captive life.

Does the Quetzal make a good pet?

They are in danger of extinction. They react very badly to being taken into captivity. Even established zoos have great trouble keeping them to a level where they can breed in captivity.

Quetzal Care

They react very badly to being kept in captivity. The care of these charming birds should only be attempted by people with highly specialized knowledge, even so it is recommended that they are not kept in captivity.

Beliefs, superstitions and phobias

There is a Guatemalan legend in which, after the arrival of the Spanish, there was a terrible fight between them and the Mayans. After the battle, many quetzals fell on the bodies of the Mayan dead. According to the story, the blood on the bodies stained the feathers of the birds, giving them their red breasts.

Popular culture

In the Final Fantasy VIII video game there is a main invocation called Quetzal, which makes lightning-type attacks.

Image of Quetzal

Invocation of the quetzal in Final Fantasy VIII, inspired by the original quetzal.

List of other interesting animals