Cloud Forest Divinity

August 26, 2009


Yesterday, I read up on this magnificent bird, the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). Quetzals belong to the family Trogonidae. With 39 species, trogons can be found in tropical forests worldwide, but their highest diversity in the Neotropics. Within Trogonidae there are 6 species of the genera Pharomachrus and Euptilotis, which are the quetzals. Quetzals are brightly colored and subsist mainly on a diet of fruit and insects. The male Resplendent Quetzal is surely one of the most beautiful of this group. They are slightly larger than a sparrow, with emerald green body and wing feathers, and a ruby red breast. The most distinctive feature, however, is the male's extraordinarily long, green tail feathers. These feathers were so prized by the Aztecs and Mayans that they were used to adorn the the crowns of their chiefs. To obtain the feathers, however, the birds were captured and the feathers trimmed, as it was forbidden to kill them. Ancient Mesoamerican mythology revered the Quetzal as a divine spirit, and as a sort of manifestation of the god Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was described as being "majestic of presence, chaste in life, averse to war, wise and generous in action, and delighting in the culitivation of the arts and peace." Not bad, eh? The first part of the name "Quetzal" is associated with sun, green and growing things, and supposedly in the Nahuatl language signifies a large, green feather.

These days the Resplendent Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala. It's range is within the montane cloud forests from southern Mexico to Panama, a rapidly disappearing ecosystem and hotbed of biodiversity. Being a symbol of ancient Mesoamericam divinity may not be enough to preserve its existence in the wild.

*painting in the Etsy Shop

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