|The trogons and quetzals are birds in the order
Trogoniformes which contains only one family, the Trogonidae.
contains 39 species in eight genera.The word "trogon"
is Greek for "nibbling" and refers to the fact that
these birds gnaw holes
in trees to make their nests.
Trogons are residents of tropical forests worldwide, with the
greatest diversity in the Neotropics. The genus Apaloderma
the three African species, Harpactes and Apalharpactes
are Asian, and the remaining four genera are found in Central
They feed on insects and fruit, and their broad bills and weak
legs reflect their diet and arboreal habits. Although their
flight is fast,
they are reluctant to fly any distance. Trogons are generally
not migratory, although some species undertake partial local
Trogons have soft, often colourful, feathers with distinctive
male and female plumage. They are the only type of animal with
heterodactyl toe arrangement.
The trogons are insectivorous, usually hunting from a perch.
They nest in holes dug into trees or termite nests, laying 2-4
The majority of trogons are birds of tropical and subtropical
forests. They have a cosmopolitan distribution in the worlds
tropics, being found in the Americas, Africa and Asia. A few
species are distributed into the temperate zone, with one species,
the Elegant Trogon, reaching the south of the United States
specifically southern Arizona and the surrounding area. The
Narina Trogon of Africa is slightly exceptional in that it utilises
a wider range of habitats than any other trogon, ranging from
to fairly open savannah, and from the Equator to southern South
Africa. It is the most widespread and successful of all the
The Eared Quetzal of Mexico is also able to use more xeric habitats,
but preferentially inhabits forests. Most other species are
more restricted in their habitat, with several species being
restricted to undisturbed primary forest. Within forests they
tend to be
found in the mid story, occasionally in the canopy.
Trogon, Harpactes erythrocephalus,
Khao Yai National Park, Pak Chong, Thailand
Photo: JJ Harrison
Some species, particularly the quetzals, are adapted to cooler
montane forest. There are a number of insular species; these
a number of species found in the Greater Sundas, one species
in the Philippines as well as two monophyletic genera endemic
Cuba and Hispaniola respectively. Outside of South Asia and
the Caribbean, however, trogons are generally absent from islands,
especially oceanic ones.
Trogons are generally sedentary, with no species known to undertake
A small number of species are known to
make smaller migratory
movements, particularly montane species which move to
lower altitudes during different seasons.
This has been demonstrated using radio tracking in the Resplendent
Quetzal in Costa Rica and evidence has been accumulated for
a number of other species. The Narina Trogon of Africa is thought
to undertake some localised short distance migrations
of its range, for example birds of Zimbabwe's plateau savannah
depart after the breeding season. A complete picture of these
movements is however lacking. Trogons are difficult to study
as their thick tarsi (feet bones) make ringing studies difficult.
The trogons as a family are fairly uniform in appearance, having
compact bodies and long tails (very long in the case of the
and short necks. Trogons range in size from the 23 cm, 40 gram
Scarlet-rumped Trogon to the 40 cm, 210 gram Resplendent Quetzal
(not including the male quetzal's 0.91 m tail streamers). Their
legs and feet are weak and short, and trogons are essentially
unable to walk beyond a very occasional shuffle along a branch.
They are even incapable of turning around on a branch without
using their wings. The ratio of leg muscle to body weight in
trogons is only 3 percent, the lowest known ratio of any bird.
Trogons, Trogon collaris (two left pictures)
and Trogon massena, Costa Rica.
© Vladimir Dinets
The arrangement of toes on the feet of trogons is also unique
amongst birds, although essentially resembling the zygodactyls
forward two backward arrangement of parrots and other near-passerines,
the actual toes are arranged with usually inner hallux
being the outer hind toe, an arrangement that is referred to
as heterodactylous. The strong bill is short and the gape wide,
particularly in the fruit eating quetzals, with a slight hook
at the end. The African trogons are generally green on the back
bellies. The New World trogons similarly have green or deep
blue upperparts but are more varied in their lowerparts. The
species tend towards red underparts and brown backs.
The wings are short but strong, with the wing muscle ratio being
around 22% of the body weight. In spite of the strength of
their flight, trogons do not fly often or for great distances,
generally flying no more than a few hundred metres at a time.
Only the montane species tend to make long distance flights.
Shorter flights tend to be direct and swift, but longer flights
slightly undulating. Their flight can be surprisingly silent
(for observers), although that of a few species is reportedly
|Eared Quetzal (Eared Trogon)
|Javan (Blue-tailed) Trogon)
also previous White-tailed Trogon
Narina Trogon, Apaloderma
male Narina Trogon, Apaloderma narina, perched in Pigeonwood.
Photo: Patty McGann
|The Narina Trogon, Apaloderma narina,
is a medium-sized (up to 34 cm long), largely green forest bird
in the Trogonidae family.
It is the most widespread and catholic in habitat choice of
three Apaloderma trogons. The species name is Khoikhoi in origin,
believed to be named after Narina, the mistress of the French
ornithologist François Le Vaillant.
Both sexes have vivid, gingery green upperpart plumage. The
tail feathers have a metallic blue-green gloss. The outer three
on each side are tipped and fringed white, giving the undertail
of perched birds a characteristic white appearance The wing
are a grizzled grey, and remiges mostly colourless grey.
The male especially, has bright amaranth red underside plumage
and bare, green gape and eye flanges. The female has brown face
and chest plumage, blue skin orbiting the eyes and duller red
plumage below. Immature birds resemble females, but have distinct
white tips to the tertials (inner wing), and less distinct gape
and eye flanges.
The species has a large range in Africa, inhabiting lowland
to highland, valley and riparian forests, from tropical to temperate
those occurring in highlands dispersing seasonally to lower
levels. It is found from Sierra Leone to Ethiopia, and east
eastern and southern South Africa.
The diet consists mainly of insects and small invertebrates
as well as rodents and small reptiles. They nest in a tree hollow
which both sexes incubate or brood.
Quetzal, Pharomachrus mocinno
male Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica
Photo: Dick Bos
|The Resplendent Quetzal, Pharomachrus mocinno,
is a bird in the trogon family. It is found from southern Mexico
Panama (unlike the other quetzals of the genus Pharomachrus,
which are found in South America and eastern Panama). It is
known for its colorful plumage. There are two subspecies, Pharomachrus
mocinno mocinno and Pharomachrus mocinno
This quetzal plays an important role in Mesoamerican mythologies.
The Resplendent Quetzal is Guatemala's national bird, and an
image of it is on the flag and coat of arms of Guatemala. It
is also the name of the local currency (abbreviation GTQ).
This species is 3640 cm long, plus up to 65 cm of tail
streamer for the male, and weighs about 210 g. It is the largest
of the trogon order. The subspecies costaricensis is slightly
smaller than the nominate race and has shorter narrower tail
Resplendent Quetzals have a green body (showing iridescence
from green-gold to blue-violet) and red breast. Their green
coverts hide their tails and in breeding males are particularly
splendid, being longer than the rest of the body. The primary
coverts are also unusually long and give a fringed appearance.
The male has a helmet-like crest. The bill, which is partly
green filamentous feathers, is yellow in mature males and black
Their habitat is montane cloud forests of Central America (from
Southern Mexico to Panama).
Resplendent Quetzals are weak fliers. Their known predators
include the Ornate Hawk-eagle and owls as adults,
Emerald Toucanets, Brown Jays, Long-tailed Weasels, squirrels,
and the Kinkajou as nestlings or eggs.
quetzal feeding on wild avocados
BBC Natural History Unit & BBC Natural History
Resplendent Quetzals are considered specialized fruit-eaters,
although they mix their diet with insects (notably wasps, ants,
larvae), frogs and lizards. Particularly important are wild
avocados and other fruit of the laurel family, which the birds
whole before regurgitating the pits, which helps to disperse
Resplendent Quetzals usually live alone when not breeding. They
are monogamous territorial breeders, with the territory size
measured in Guatemala as 6-10 ha. They are also seasonal breeders,
with the breeding season being March to April in Mexico,
May to June in El Salvador and March to May in Guatemala. When
breeding, females lay two pale blue eggs in a nest placed in
a hole which they carve in a rotten tree. A tree in the required
stage of decomposition is susceptible to weather damage, and
availability of suitable trees may limit the Resplendent Quetzal
quetzal, Pharomachrus mocinno
Both parents take turns at incubating, with their long tail-covert
feathers folded forwards over the back and out of the hole,
where they tend to look like a bunch of fern growing out of
the hole. The incubation period lasts about 18 days, during
the male generally incubates the eggs during the day while the
female incubates them at night. When the eggs hatch, both parents
take care of the young, feeding them fruit, berries, insects,
lizards, and small frogs. However, the female often neglects
abandons the young near the end of the rearing period, leaving
it up to the male to continue caring for the offspring until
ready to survive on their own.