5 Quetzal Species Flying in Central and South America

By: Sascha Bos  | 
Colorful bird flying through green trees
A male resplendent quetzal flies through a rainforest on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. mallardg500 / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Quetzals are vibrant birds from Central and South America, with the resplendent quetzal being the most famous species, often associated with the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl in Mesoamerican culture.
  • These birds live in humid, tropical forests, with the resplendent quetzal, which is considered sacred by the Aztec and Mayan cultures, residing in cloud forests.
  • Quetzals face habitat loss and are known for their long tail feathers, especially during mating season.

The quetzal is a colorful, tropical bird that has fascinated humans for thousands of years. One species in particular, the resplendent quetzal, is thought to have inspired Quetzalcoatl" target="_blank">Quetzalcóatl, the Mesoamerican feathered serpent god.

Read on to learn more about these beautiful birds that live in the rainforests of Central America and South America.



About Quetzals

Quetzals are five species of Central and South American birds in the genus Pharomachrus of the trogon family:

  • The crested quetzal (Pharomachrus antisianus) is found in western South America, including parts of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
  • The golden-headed quetzal (Pharomachrus auriceps) lives in western South America from Venezuela to Bolivia.
  • The pavonine quetzal (Pharomachrus pavoninus) lives in subtropical forests of the Amazon basin.
  • The resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is found in the tropical montane cloud forests of Central America, including southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and parts of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and western Panama. The resplendent quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala and inspired the country's currency, the Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ). It was also a sacred bird in Aztec and Mayan culture.
  • The white-tipped quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus) lives in the humid forests of northern Colombia and Venezuela.

The word "quetzal" comes from the Nahuatle "quetzalli," which refers to the resplendent quetzal's tail coverts, the brilliant green plumage covering the tail feathers of the male resplendent quetzal during the mating season.


Resplendent quetzals aren't the only species with long tail feathers: Golden-headed quetzals grow tail feathers up to 6.7 inches (17. cm) long, and crested quetzal feathers can reach 30 inches (76.2 cm) long. But the resplendent quetzal has the longest plumes at 35 inches (88.9 cm).


Is the Eared Quetzal Really a Quetzal?

The eared quetzal (Euptilotis neoxenus), found in the mountains of Mexico and occasionally the southwestern United States, is not a "true" quetzal because it is not in the Pharomachrus genus.

It is, however, in the larger togon family, so the eared quetzal — sometimes referred to as the eared togon — is a close relative of the quetzals.


Quetzal Conservation Status

All five quetzal species are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The resplendent quetzal is "near threatened" and the other four species are "least concern."

According to IUCN, the resplendent quetzal "is suspected to be experiencing a moderately rapid population decline, owing to widespread deforestation."


Frequently Asked Questions

What do quetzals eat?
Quetzals primarily eat fruits, especially avocados, but they also consume insects, small amphibians and reptiles.
How do quetzals contribute to their ecosystem?
Quetzals play a crucial role in their ecosystem by dispersing seeds from the fruits they eat, which helps maintain forest diversity.