The Hunt for the Quetzal

In March 2005, my family and I took a guided tour of the spectacular Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. Monteverde is a tropical forest at about 5,000 feet above sea level. Established in 1972, the Preserve covers over 10,500 hectares, mostly virgin forest. It contains a lot of different plants and animals, including over 2,500 plant species (especially 420 different kinds of orchids), 100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, and thousands of insects. My mom and I were there to see some life birds. But the one bird that we really wanted to see was the Resplendant Quetzal.

The Quetzal is a rare and beautiful bird found only in Central America in high-elevation cloud forests like Monteverde. So this was our big chance. The male Quetzal is very colorful and has very long tail feathers. It is mostly a greenish-blue colored bird, with red underneath. It has a white tail, but very long, green feathers that extend farther than the rest of the tail. 

The Quetzal is in fact so beautiful that the Ancient Mayans considered them sacred. They even worshiped a god named Quetzal. This is how the bird got its name- "Quetzal" is from the Aztec words for bird feathers, precious and beautiful. However, the Mayans did kill the Quetzals for their feathers.

When we arrived at the entrance to Monteverde we met our guide, Danielo. He was very enthusiastic about Monteverde. He was also a really good birder. At the entrance to the path into the forest we saw howler monkeys in the trees feeding on the leaves. As we were walking down the path Danielo explained how a cloud forest was different from a rainforest. As we told him about ourselves, we were amazed to see a Grey Fox walking down the path.

We made our way through the forest to our first destination: some waterfalls. We saw many birds, and a poisonous snake called a Pit Viper up in a large tree. Danielo pointed out the nest of a Grey-throated Leaf Tosser- a hole in a bank by the trail. At the waterfalls we saw a Black Guan in the tree. They are big black birds that look like a cross between a turkey and a hawk.

On the way back we looked through Danielo's scope at a Yellowish Flycatcher sitting on its nest. We also got a good look at a Black-faced Solitaire, which are normally difficult to see, but whose song is constant in the forest. Danielo called it the "squeaky gate bird" since its song sounds like a gate that needs to be oiled.

Suddenly, Danielo stopped us and listened. In the distance we could hear the deep, smooth, slurred, notes of a Quetzal. He radioed to the other guides that he had heard one. We continued back on the trail with excitement.

Our first sight of the Quetzal was in an opening through the trees. There were two males fighting. Danielo called into his walkie-talkie: "Caliente! Muy caliente!" and other tour groups joined us. The longer we stayed the more Quetzals there were. The maximum number of Quetzal we observed at one time was seven. It was awesome. Danielo also took some really good pictures of a male and a female for us.

Since it was breeding season for the birds, they were more active and visible than normal. We felt fortunate to have seen such a show.

After awhile we headed back to the entrance of the trails. We took a quick break and then went to the hummingbird garden to end the tour. Some of the hummingbirds we saw were: the Purple-throated Mountain Gem, Green-crowned Brilliant, and Coppery-headed Emerald. I can really recommend this tour to birders going to Costa Rica. — by Patrick Susoeff Age 14, 8th grader, Dorseyville Middle School

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Mission of 3RBC

To gather in friendship, to enjoy the wonders of nature and to share our passion for birds!