Eared Quetzal is a rather striking bird of the pine and pine oak forests of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Like other species of trogon and quetzal, it is a large, mostly green bird with a short, stubby bill and a broad, squared tail. The male has bright red underparts, a blackish head, a green chest, crown, and upperparts, a blue uppertail, a mostly white undertail, and blackish wings. The female is similar but duller; immatures have more extensive black on their undertail. The voice of Eared Quetzal is very distinctive and far carrying, and often is the first indication of its presence.
Eared Quetzal is distinguished from all other trogon species in its range by its larger size, humped shape, smaller head, gray bill, and color pattern (Howell and Webb 1995). Eared Quetzal lacks the white chest band of sympatric species of trogons. Also, the underside of the tail of Eared Trogon is more extensively white than the tail of Mountain Trogon (Trogon mexicanus), and the underside of the tail is not barred, as it is on Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans). The wing coverts of Eared Quetzal are green; the wing coverts of both species of trogon are vermiculated with black and white. Nonetheless, the overall impression given by the red and green males of all three species is striking and relatively similar, and local people in the Sierra Madre Occidental do not normally distinguish between the three species (Lammertink et al. 1996).
The following description based on Ridgway (1911), supplemented by Taylor (1994) and Johnsgard (2000).
The Eared Quetzal is the only member of its genus. Its bill is more slender than other quetzal bills, and is unserrated but with a subterminal notch in both mandibles. Its nostril is covered by a broad operculum and its rictal bristles are small or nonexistent. The feathers on the side of the occiput (its ear coverts) are elongated and very slender, forming a filamentous tuft that may be seen as wavy silver markings behind the eyes. Its loral feathers face backwards (instead of forwards or standing erect, like other quetzals). Its wing coverts are not elongated but rounded, and its uppertail coverts do not reach its tail-tip, although those of some males go beyond the upper-half of the tail, which is graduated for over one third of its length.
Adult male: Crown dark metallic bronze green or greenish bronze. Rest of head (including the chin and throat) dull black, faintly glossed with bluish. Back, scapulars, and wing coverts bright metallic green to greenish bronze, shading into bright bluish green on the rump and uppertail coverts. The six central rectrices and the basal portion of the outer rectrices are dark metallic blue; the three outer pairs of rectrices are broadly tipped with white, the white occupying the terminal third of the outermost rectrix. The remiges, and the greater and primary coverts, are slate blackish, the greater coverts and the secondaries distinctly but narrowly margined with metallic green. The outer webs of the primaries are more grayish, shading into grayish white basally. Middle and lesser wing coverts abruptly slate blackish basally. Breast bright metallic bronze green, passing into a more bluish hue towards the throat. Belly and undertail coverts bright red; tibial feathers dark slate.
Adult female: The upperparts and the tail are as in the male, but the crown and remiges are slate. The sides of the head, and the chin and throat, are brownish slate gray, shading into light grayish brown on the breast. Red of lower underparts less intense than in the adult male. The females also have the elongated ‘ear’ feathers that distinguish the genus.
Immature: The head and breast are brown, while the ear coverts are not elongated. The underside of the tail is extensively black, with around half the outermost rectrix, a third of the second pair, a fourth of the third pair, and the very tips of the inner rectrices showing white. The outer secondaries show traces of buff and the underparts are pinkish.
Juvenile male: The head is a lighter charcoal color than an adult, while the breast has a mixture of green and rust-colored spots and the underparts are more orange than an adult. It presumably maintains the white upperwing covert spots of a fledgling.
Juvenile female: The head is darker gray than the neck but lighter than an adult’s. The breast is pearly gray to fawn, while the orange-red underparts are not as extensive. It too presumably maintains the upperwing coverts of a fledgling.
Iris: dark brown; eyering gray
Bill: bluish gray basally, terminally blackish
Gape: deep orange
Tarsi and toes: brown
Bare parts color data from Ridgway (1911) and Johnsgard (2000).
Total length: male 32.0-35.1 cm (Ridgway 1911), female 30.7-35.0 cm (Ridgway 1911); 33-35.5 cm (Howell and Webb 1995)
Linear measurements (from Ridgway 1911):
adult male (n = 10)
wing length: mean 191.6 mm, range 181-200 mm
tail length: mean 171.2 mm, range 161-179.5 mm
bill length (exposed culmen): mean 18.4 mm, range 17-19.5 mm
tarsus length: mean 16.4 mm, ange 15.5-17.5 mm
middle toe length: mean 184 mm, range 17.5-19.5 mm
adult female (n = 9)
wing length: mean 192.5 mm, range 183.5-198.5 mm
tail length: mean 165, range 157-177 mm
bill length (exposed culment): mean 18.1 mm, range 17-19.5 mm
tarsus length: mean 16.2 mm, range 14.5-17 mm
middle toe length: mean 18.8 mm, range 17.5-20 mm
Mass: male mean 116.2 g (range 103-126.7 g, n = 5; Johnsgard 2000, from specimens in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology); female, mean 128.6 g (range 115-148.5 g, n = 6; Johnsgard 2000, from specimens in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology)