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Resplendent Quetzal Pharomachrus mocinno

  • Order: Trogoniformes
  • Family: Trogonidae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors: Ashley A. Dayer


Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List (BirdLife International 2009), the conservation status of the Resplendent Quetzal is assessed as Near Threatened. Its CITES status is Appendix I. It is believed to be undergoing a "moderately rapid population decline" due to deforestation. BirdLife International calls for more monitoring to better establish the population estimate and trends. Additionally, suggested conservation actions include monitoring habitat loss and degradation, as well as protecting habitat corridors and the high and low elevation forests it inhabits. According to the Partners in Flight conservation vulnerability assessment (Berlanga et al. 2010), the Resplendent Quetzal is one of the 148 species of landbirds of highest tri-national concern for conservation in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Collar (2001) suggests that the Resplendent Quetzal may be the most threatened trogonid of modern day.

Effects of human activity on populations

Berlanga et al. (2010) describe the primary threats to the Resplendent Quetzal as habitat conversion for agriculture and livestock production, logging of mature forest, and climate change. According to BirdLife International (2009), some direct persecution probably still occurs, particularly in southern Mexico, but it is likely reduced. Stotz et al. (1996) describe its sensitivity to human disturbance as medium.

Traditionally, the Resplendent Quetzal's plumes were highly treasured by pre-Columbian populations in Mesoamerica. The long green uppertail coverts of the male quetzal covered the heads of high priests and royalty-the only people who could possess and wear them (Johnsgard 2000). However, it is believed that birds were trapped and released to harvest feathers and then allow them to regrow them (Skutch 1944). Others believe that a great deal of harvest occurred to procure the necessary feathers (Collar 2001). In contrast, Europeans collected quetzals in great numbers to sell their skins to museums and collectors. Skutch (1944) described the magnitude of quetzal trade that "reached such proportions that the Quetzals might well have been exterminated had not so many of them dwelt in wild mountainous regions which even today are most difiicult of access and scarcely explored." Resplendent Quetzals also were captured for the caged bird trade but did not do well in captivity (Collar 2001).  Wetmore (1968) noted that in the 1960s a great deal of hunting for quetzals still occurred, for their feathers as well as their meat.  Additionally they were taken for zoos and private aviaries (Collar 2001).

Recommended Citation

Dayer, A. A. (2010). Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.