Distribution in the Americas
The Resplendent Quetzal is found in southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, northern Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and western Panama (Stotz et al. 1996). The subspecies mocinno inhabits southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, eastern El Salvador, and north-central Nicaragua. The subspecies costaricensis inhabits Costa Rica and the western highlands of Panama. It ranges from 1,000-3,300 meters in elevation. Its nonbreeding habitats are believed to be lower and more diverse (Johnsgard 2000). The phenology and distribution of the Lauraceae (wild avocado family) appear to determine the timing and direction of the seasonal, altitudinal movements of the Resplendent Quetzal (Wheelwright 1983).
The Resplendent Quetzal prefers montane evergreen forest (cloud forest). Skutch (1944) believed the quetzals preferred cloud forests in which the trees are 30-45 m tall, while LaBastille et al. (1972) found that it required mature or virgin "cloud" forest with a scarcity of hunters and trappers. Wheelwright (1983) suggests that habitat selection in Costa Rica is closely tied to the existence of fruit-bearing trees of the laurel family (Lauraceae), which includes the wild avocado. Solarzano et al. (2000) found that quetzal abundance in habitats of southeastern Mexico is correlated with the total number of fruiting species, but only marginally correlated with the number of fruiting Lauraceae species. Skutch (1944) noted that the quetzal travels outside of the forest to forage and also nest in clearings adjacent forests; yet, it did not exist in areas where the heavy woodland was removed. Quetzals forage in the canopy or subcanopy and arely, if ever, venture to the forest floor (LaBastille et al. 1972).
Other quetzal species similarly are found in the cloud forests at generally the same elevation as the Resplendent Quetzal, but some are less specialized on the mature forest and the higher elevations (Johnsgard 2000). Generally the entire trogon family (Trogonidae) prefers forests, particularly the middle strata and shady interior (Collar 2001).