The Quetzal: Meet Guatemala’s National Bird

By Diana Pastor

Many times, I have been asked the same question about the name of Quetzaltenango by foreigners here: Are there really Quetzales here? Embarrassed, I must answer that perhaps long ago they lived here but today it is difficult to see them even in their natural habitats (rain forest). The Quetzales, which incidentally share their name with the Guatemalan national currency, originally lived in abundance, throughout the Western part of the country. Today, though, they are predominantly seen in San Marcos and Baja Verapaz. Although there may also be some Quetzals living in the areas of San Martin, Chile Verde and between Cantel and Zunil (the latter are municipalities of Quetzaltenango). However, in these areas, sightings have only been recorded by Rangers.
The Quetzal is an extremely shy bird, and for that reason its numbers are decreasing, making them today a kind of legend for both domestic and foreign tourists. It is a very beautiful Green bird, with a red breast and a long tail. However, only the male has this brilliance of colour, with the female a less attractive brown colour. It feeds mainly on aguacatillo, a small fruit from the avocado family, but they also eat frogs, insects and seeds. It makes its nest in holes hidden in the sides of trees, and from here the parents can bring up their young. Today, they live in large numbers in Costa Rica, since the country has made great efforts to preserve the population, and to protect their natural environment.
The Quetzal has been the national bird since 1871. Besides being the national bird, it is also appears on the National Emblem, which symbolises peace. It is said the bird was chosen because it will die if placed in captivity. It has also played an important role in Mayan and Aztec cultures, and its feathers featured on important headdress that were worn by deities and princes.
If you are interested in seeing a Quetzal, there different shelters that you can visit. You will be able to visit shelters in San Marcos, or Quetzal Biotope of Quetzal in Baja Verapaz, but here you have to be patient and quiet as the quetzals are difficult to spot amongst the lush Green of the trees where they live.

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