The adult male Elegant Trogon has an iridescent green head, throat and back, separated from a brilliant red belly by a white band across the breast, and by gray wings. The bill and eyering are yellow to orange. The tail is long; the underside of the tail is white, narrowly vermiculated (the northern "Coppery-tailed Trogon") or narrowly barred (the southern "Elegant Trogon") with black. The upper surface of the tail is coppery green (subspecies canescens and ambiguus) or green (remaining subspecies).
The adult female is similar to male, but browner overall, and the red of the underparts is paler and is restricted to the lower belly and vent. The female also has a white "tear-drop" mark on the side of the face behind the eye.
The distribution of the Elegant Trogon overlaps that of several other trogons. The female Elegant Trogon can be distinguished from females of sympatric species by the the white postocular stripe (or "tear drop"). The male Elegant Trogon perhaps is more easily confused with other species, but:
Mexican Trogon (Trogon mexicanus): The underside of the tail is primarily black, although the rectrices have broad white tips (lacks the narrow vermiculations on the underside of the tail of Elegant).
Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris): The underside of the tail is strongly but narrowly barred black and white, which distinguished Collared from the northern "Coppery-tailed Trogon" subspecies of Mexico. The southern "Elegant Trogon" subspecies also have a barred undersurface to the rectrices, but Collared is smaller, and has little or no eyering.
Descriptions below were modified by Kunzmann et al. (1998) from Ridgway (1911), and refer to the northern subspecies canescens; see also Geographic Variation. Referenced specified colors are from Smithe (1975-1981).
Adult male: Front of head—including center of crown, postocular area, rear ear coverts, malar area, and lower throat—dull black; area in front of eye appears darker. Occiput, sometimes crown, hindneck, back, scapulars, and anterior portion of lesser wing-coverts, rump and uppertail-coverts bright metallic Dark Green (162A) to bronze Parrot-Green (160), with golden bronze tinge on scapulars and lateral uppertail coverts. Middle pair of rectrices (R1) quite long and square at end; iridescent bright coppery bronze to True Cinnamon (139), with greenish or sometimes Cyan (164) hue in some lights (the color is sometimes more greenish basally), with very broad, sharply defined black to bluish black band at tip; next 2 feathers (r2, R3) similarly colored on outer web, but inner web darker and more purplish black with metallic sheen, and with white mottling subterminally along edge of outer web of R3. Outer 3 rectrices graduated and extremely variable in length. R4 slightly shorter than R1, R5 one-third shorter than R1, and R6 less than half the length of R1; feathers dull purplish black basally (this portion of feather usually concealed), outer webs except at base and broad terminal portions of inner webs are white, very finely freckled (ambiguus group) or with very closely spaced narrow bars (elegans group) of purplish black over wide subterminal zone, this succeeded by a few very narrow bars of color of basal portion, but wide tips immaculate white. Primaries and primary coverts slate black; primaries (except for outermost feather) have narrow margin of white on outer webs, which becomes broader proximally and narrower distally; remaining wing coverts very finely vermiculated blackish slate and pale gray; outer webs of secondaries and tertials broadly margined on outer web with the same; remaining portion of secondaries and tertials slate black, except 2 innermost tertials entirely vermiculated. Dull black throat grades into color of back on upper breast (bright metallic bronzed Dark Green with copper-bronze tinge), this area sharply bordered by white band across lower breast and upper belly, remaining underparts Geranium Pink (13) to geranium red; thighs slate black or blackish slate, longer feathers broadly tipped with pink or pinkish white; lining of wing Hair Brown (119A), finely freckled with white.
Adult female: Upperparts from forehead to uppertail coverts, and underparts from chin to middle of breast, between Isabella color and Raw Umber (123), becoming grayish anteriorly, particularly on front of head (forehead to center of crown, central ear-coverts, and chin to malar area and upper throat) and becoming brighter posteriorly, particularly on rump and uppertail-coverts. Area in front of eye and suborbital region dark slaty or black; this area is bordered at rear of eye by brownish white bar that passes obliquely through middle ear-coverts and that is bordered posteriorly by dark slaty or black bar of similar width. Broad, brownish white orbital ring interrupted on middle of upper and lower eyelids. Rectrices same lengths and shapes as in male. Central rectrices (R1) brown or light Vandyke Brown (121), with broad, sharply defined black band at tip; r2 similar, but inner web entirely brownish black; R3 entirely brownish black, with white mottling subterminally along edge of outer web; 3 outermost feathers as in male, but more coarsely vermiculated, and subterminal portions of outer webs usually irregularly and narrowly barred with dull black or dark slaty. Wings as in male, except primaries more brownish; areas with blackish and gray vermiculation in male same color as rump, sparsely vermiculated with slaty (primarily on median and lesser wing-coverts), becoming paler and grayer on secondaries, and outer secondaries edged on outer web with buffy brown. Chin through middle of breast sharply demarcated from remaining underparts. Remaining underparts white, becoming dull cinnamon buff (similar to color of upperparts but much paler) on anterior flanks and across middle of belly; posterior flanks and lower belly through crissum suffused with light Geranium Pink to geranium red; feathers slightly edged with white. Lining of wing buffy brown, mixed with buffy white and Hair Brown.
Hatchlings are entirely unfeathered at birth. At about 10–12 days, nestlings are mostly covered in natal down, but the lower abdomen remains bare.
There is little information on timing or sequence of Prejuvenal molt. Juvenal plumage mostly developed by the time young are ready to leave nest, at 20–23 days old, but tail only one-third of adult length (Taylor 1994). Tail-feathers grow from 2 cm long to >10 cm long during first month after fledging.
Employs a simple basic molt cycle. Timing of the molt is not well known, but is thought to occur shortly after breeding, in the late summer to early autumn (August-October).
Iris: dark brown
Narrow, bare orbital ring: orange (male), pale (female)
Bill: yellow (brighter in males)
Tarsi and toes: brownish color
Mean mass is 67.3 grams, range 60.0-78.6 grams (Dunning 1993). Females are slightly larger, at 73.8 ± 1.06 g, compared to males at 65.8 ± 4.87 g.
Typical wing chord for is 130 mm for males and 134 mm for females. Typical length is 315-320 mm.
Tail length in males varies geographically, e.g. mean tail length of canescens 173 mm, but only 155.8 mm in goldmani. Tail length of females are more consistent, 175-179 mm.
Culmen: 18 mm in male and 17.5 ± 0.5 mm in female.
Tarsus: 15.3-15.9 mm in male and 15.1-16.2 mm in female.
Data from (Ridgway 1911, van Rossem 1934).