HBW 10 - Species accounts: Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)

39. Resplendent Quetzal
Pharomachrus mocinno

French: Quetzal resplendissant  German: Quetzal  Spanish: Quetzal Guatemalteco

Other common names: Quetzal/Northern Quetzal/Magnificent Quetzal>

Taxonomy. Pharomachrus Mocinno de la Llave, 1832, Guatemala and Chiapas.
Forms a superspecies with P. antisianus, with which often considered conspecific; P. fulgidus may belong to this superspecies. Synonyms of mocinno include paradisens and resplendens. Two subspecies recognized.
Subspecies and Distribution.
P. m. mocinno de la Llave, 1832 - S Mexico (Oaxaca and Chiapas), Guatemala, Honduras, E El Salvador and NC Nicaragua.
P. m. costaricensis Cabanis, 1869 - Costa Rica (except Cordillera de Guanacaste) and W highlands of Panama (E, at least formerly, to Veraguas).


Descriptive notes. 36-40 cm, with tail-streamers up to 65 cm more; 180-210 g. Male nominate race with bill yellow, partly hidden by green filamentous feathers radiating in laterally compressed circle from around eye, giving head a bristling, short-crested appearance; upperparts, throat and upper breast bright iridescent green (shifting to blue at some angles), including elongate greater coverts (extending beyond line of closed wing) and 4 narrow, flexible, filamentous uppertail-coverts ("streamers"); flight-feathers blackish; mid-breast to vent red; undertail white. Female with variably blackish to yellow bill, bronze-green head, green upperparts, throat and upper breast, slightly elongate greater coverts and uppertail-coverts, whitish outer webs of primaries; mid-breast to mid-belly grey, then red to vent; uppertail blackish, undertail broadly barred greyish-black and white. Immature male like female, but bill yellow, bronzier above, undertail with more white. Race costaricensis slightly smaller, with shorter, narrower tail plumes. Voice. Song a steady "k’yoi-k’yow, k’yoi-k’yow, k’yoi-k’yow, k’yoi-k’yow"; calls include hard "kwah", steady "ka-ka-ka...", and in display-flight or agitation a rolling chatter, "perwicka" or "waka-waka-waka-waka!".
Habitat. Canopy and subcanopy (sometimes much lower) of undisturbed humid epiphyte-laden evergreen montane forest, cloudforest, thickly vegetated ravines and cliffs, edge, park-like clearings and pastures, and open situations with scattered trees adjacent to forest; 900-2275 m in Oaxaca, Mexico, but from 1200-1500 m up to 3200 m farther S.
Food and Feeding. Fruit; also insects, small frogs, lizards and snails. Largely frugivorous, strongly preferring fruits of Lauraceae. Thus, foods recorded at Monteverde, in Costa Rica, include 18 species of Lauraceae (5 Ocotea, 4 Nectandra, 2 Phoebe, along with Beilschmiedia and Persea), as well as Guatteria (2 species), Ficus (2 species), Symplocarpon, Hampea, Hasseltia, Pouteria, Symplocos (several species), Ardisia, Rubus, Eugenia, Conostegia, Mappia, Dendropanax, Citharexylum (2 species), Chione, Coussarea and Anthurium. Of these, only 8 identified as being brought to young, with only 2 lauraceous plants (Ocotea tonduzii and Nectandra salicina), although latter made up 80% of total fruit items; animal items brought to same nest totalled 121 invertebrates, of which 52 were beetles and their larvae (including Scarabaeidae), 35 orthopterans (chiefly Tettigoniidae) and 26 moth larvae (including Sphingidae), these 3 groups making up 97·5% of all insects delivered, also 9 lizards (all Norops) and 8 snails. Young fed almost exclusively insects in first 10 days. Sallies to pluck fruit or snatch animal prey from trees.
Breeding. Mar-Apr in Mexico, although a report from Chiapas of May-Jul/Aug; May-Jun in El Salvador, Mar-May in Guatemala, Mar-Jun (often 2 broods) in Costa Rica. Territory in Guatemala 6-10 ha. Nest a deep, unlined cavity with single entrance, 4·3-27 m up in decaying trunk or stump in forest or nearby clearing; of 10 nests in Guatemala, mean height of stub 12·4 m and of nest 9·4 m, with most favoured tree Brosimum costaricanum. Eggs 1-2; incubation 17-19 days; nestling period 23-31 days. Reported that 80% of chicks die before fledging and, of those that fledge, another 80% die before adulthood.
Movements. Resident in Mexico, but altitudinal shifts, presumably in response to changes in fruit abundance: telemetry work at El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve showed seasonal use of coffee-plantation buffer zones at lower elevations in non-breeding period. Recolonization, after 25 years’ absence, of a forest patch in Chiapas indicates dispersive capacity. Telemetry studies in Costa Rica showed complex local migrations linking 4 montane life zones: after Jul in one year birds moved down Pacific slope to patches at 1300-1450 m, and in next year to patches at 1100-1350 m, in both years remaining until Oct/Nov, thereafter moving across continental divide to pre-montane Atlantic slope rainforest at 700-1200 m, remaining there until Jan, when they returned to breeding grounds.
Status and Conservation. Not globally threatened. CITES I. Currently considered Near-threatened. Considered Vulnerable in 1970’s, but subsequent evidence suggested that it was reasonably secure; new knowledge of local migratory behaviour strongly indicates need for status review. Fairly common to common where habitat untouched, but uncommon to rare in much of range owing to forest clearance and hunting for plumes. Threats include habitat clearance, felling of "honey-trees", poaching, lack of law enforcement, indigenous exploitation of forest resources. In Mexico still fairly widespread, surviving apparently wherever as little as 8 km² of cloudforest persists, but seriously at risk in N Chiapas through habitat loss and hunting; uncommon in El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve; in 1930’s became isolated in NW Chiapas through spread of cultivation (especially coffee), leaving population there of c.1000-2000 individuals. In Guatemala, also suffered greatly from clearance of forest for coffee plantations in 1880-1930, and from plume-hunting, but still fairly common in 1960’s; now the national bird, and is present in Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, which, with 236,000 ha, is probably largest contiguous protected cloudforest in Central America. In El Salvador, prediction of extinction by mid-20th century through deforestation was not fulfilled, but by 1970’s probably only the tiny Montecristo area sustained a viable small population. In Honduras locally fairly common, having suffered less persecution than farther N; very common 1930-1950 in Montaña de Pijol, in Yoro; in 1970 country was thought to hold largest population N of Costa Rica; a few survive in La Tigra National Park. No data for Nicaragua since reported as locally distributed in few remaining areas of cloudforest in 1970. In Costa Rica, species has proved resilient: in 19th century, plume trade caused it to be hunted to near-extinction in all accessible areas, but evidently recovered, since capture for pet trade was rife in 1950’s and 1960’s (100 pairs annually exported to zoos and collectors, 1956-1966), continuing into 1970’s; remains fairly common, however, persisting in largely deforested areas if remnant woods contain good feeding and nesting trees, with large stable population in most mountainous areas, not in immediate danger, and present in Volcán Poás, Braulio Carillo and Chirripó National Parks, also in Monteverde Forest Preserve, although the c.50 pairs in latter need supplementary protection of steadily diminishing forest patches up to 5 km outside and 600 m downslope. In Costa Rica, extrapolation based on density extremes of 2·7-2·9 birds/km² gave population estimates of 12,868-13,821 in Talamanca forest in 1977 and 4652-4997 in largest protected area (La Amistad National Park); given that 185 km² would hold c. 500 individuals, in early 1980’s there were 3 large forested areas and 9 protected areas in Costa Rica which could support such "genetically viable" populations; however, elevational movements demonstrate necessity of establishing corridors between higher and lower forest areas. Uncommon to fairly common in Panama, where numbers continue to decline, owing mostly to forest clearance, but some persecution suspected; no longer found lower than 1500 m; c.100 estimated to survive in early 1970’s around Volcán Barú, where a century earlier the species had been abundant (area now infiltrated by road-cutting potato farmers).
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