Resplendent Quetzal – always present at the Turrialba Volcano

As we move into the mating and nesting season for the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), sightings at the Turrialba Volcano, in particular in the El Tapojo area, have increased in frequency. The species is resident in the remaining forested areas there and thus can be found all year round. However, this is the time of year when mating and nesting activity renders them more visible.

Male Resplendent Quetzal at El Tapojo

Our Turrialba area is rightly considered one of the prime birding areas in Costa Rica, yet its most spectacular species, the Resplendent Quetzal, does not form one of Turrialba’s major attractions. Instead, birders visiting Costa Rica flock (pun intended) to the highlands in the Dota region or to Monteverde in the north to see this stunningly beautiful species. There, all too often, they line up in large and sometimes noisy groups to see quetzals already found for them by local guides.

We recommend instead a visit to El Tapojo or to Los Bajos del Volcán, high on the Turrialba Volcano slope. The difference is admirably expressed by friend John Beer, who has had both experiences:
“In contrast [you by yourself have] the thrill of discovering one on the move, within a cloud forest, where the contrast of their brilliant feathers with the dark environment is an unforgettable experience.” His description fits the next photo perfectly:

Forest gloom and a male Resplendent Quetzal; photo by John Beer
Full-length portrait of a male Resplendent Quetzal at Los Bajos del Volcán Turrialba

The Resplendent Quetzal is much threatened by loss of habitat caused chiefly by deforestation for dairy farming but it is still not a rare species within its range and can be readily found at many areas, usually above 1500 m. Here are some fine photographs, again of male birds, taken in two different years at Las Tablas in the southern Pacific region on the border with Panama:

Resplendent Quetzal, front view, at Las Tablas; photo by John Beer
Male Resplendent Quetzal in typical highland forest habitat; photo by John Beer
Resplendent Quetzal, rear view, at Las Tablas; photo by John Beer

The female of the species lacks the spectacular train and bright colour contrasts of the male and thus generally receives far less attention from photographers. However, we end today with a pic of a female lest we should be accused of sexism.

Female Resplendent Quetzal, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

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