The IUCN Red List status for Eared Quetzal is Near Threatened (BirdLife International 2013). They justify this decision because its population is moderately small (population of 20,000-49,999 mature individuals; BirdLife International 2014) and although probably stable, is still threatened by deforestation. Eared Quetzal is considered Threatened under Mexican law (NOM-059 SEMARNAT 2010). Navarro-Singüenza and Lammertink (2000) also suggest a Threatened status for this species, because it is restricted to the pine forests of the Sierra Madre Occidental, and uses a particular habitat (canyons and riversides). Parker et al. (1996) give the bird a medium conservation priority, due to the threats presented by deforestation. Eared Quetzal also is a species of high concern to Partners in Flight (Berlanga et al. 2010). Based on determinations of habitat loss, Berlanga et al. (2010) estimated that 15-49% of its population has been lost in Mexico during the last century.
Of the three cavity-nesting birds of concern that inhabit (or used to inhabit) the Sierra Madre Occidental, Lammertink et al. (1996) feel that the Eared Quetzal is the most common and least threatened of them (the other two are Imperial Woodpecker, Campephilus imperialis, and Thick-billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha). They propose that the birds’ willingness to nest in riparian corridors and canyons means that the bird is in no immediate danger of losing its entire nesting habitat, and therefore probably has a stable population. However, they still suggest that the bird could benefit from a forest management plan that retained available snags (Lammertink et al. 1996). Also in favor of the bird’s population trend is their breeding success appears to be quite high (Gonzalez-Rojas 200; see Reproduction). These findings caused the IUCN to downlist the quetzal’s status from Endangered to Near Threatened in 2004 (BirdLife International 2012).
A study analyzing the abundance of birds in harvested and unharvested pine-oak forests of Chihuahua found Eared Quetzal more times in the latter forest than in primary forest (12 individuals and 5 individuals; Miller and Chambers 2007), though this is likely because they had to cancel bird surveys halfway through in the primary forest. They did, however, generally find that there were fewer secondary cavity-nesting birds in the harvested forest and concluded that these birds were likely affected by the availability of snags. They suggested that local conservation efforts consider the habitat’s complexity to ensure a higher diversity of birds (Miller and Chambers 2007).