Tag: Resplendent Quetzal

Bird Art Collection

Trogon Triptych – one of the best birthday presents ever

Bird Art is Good Art

I was inspired by a recent amazingly awesome birthday present from my son to do a quick post on the various bird art that has found a home in our house. We haven’t gone full “Put a Bird On It“, but it is a growing collection. There are some pieces that I really enjoy, especially the artwork by my kids. The latest acquisition is the Trogon Triptych at the top of the post. They were drawn by my oldest son in colored pencils (that I got him for Christmas). And they invoke some great birding memories. The whole family got up at dawn to find a Resplendent Quetzal in the Savegre Valley of Costa Rica, and we were treated to an awesome show. On the trails above the Savegre Lodge, it took 3 of us triangulating along the trail 15 minutes before we finally spotted an incessantly calling Collared Trogon. My Dad and I had a point-blank, and long lasting, encounter with an Elegant Trogon in Madera Canyon, Arizona. And while I haven’t ever seen a Black-throated trogon (the yellow-bellied bird on the left), it’s my favorite of all the sketches.


This piece is a much earlier work from my oldest son. It’s a watercolor that has always captivated me. I don’t know if it was meant to depict any particular species, but the piercing stare, the undertail detail, and the moody red background make this a painting that will always be up somewhere in our house.

This sketch is by my youngest son, who spends much less time drawing than his older brother. What species it depicts may never be known. I can see some warbler in the white wing bars, some woodpecker in the red cap, and some Rose-breasted Grosbeak in that red chest. But the bi-colored bill, the white back and belly, and those chicken legs have made a confident identification elusive. But it’s a piece of art that just screams that it was drawn by my youngest son. And it’s the love that motivated the drawing that makes it so dear to my heart.

In addition to drawing, my oldest son is a master of pipe-cleaner art. He’s made everything from Santa Claus ornaments to narwhals. And, of course, he’s made some awesome birds. What’s amazing is that he just sits down at the table, and 15 or 20 minutes later, he’s made a stunning figure that doesn’t betray any of the frustration I feel when trying to get pipe-cleaners to connect and make the shape I want them to make. This one here is in my office at work, and is inspired by the Scarlet Macaws we saw in Costa Rica.

Lego butterfly

No art collection is complete without some legos. And we’ve got bins and bins of legos. We prefer to free build in our house, and often work in small scale. This Mexican Violetear was part of an official set (you can find the set here). In addition to the hummingbird, it also has a Blue Jay and European Robin. A different set, with smaller models (but again a European Robin) was given out to Lego employees a few years ago. If you want it, will cost you a pretty penny. With some free time this summer, I’d like to create a series of super small, but identifiable, lego birds. If I’m successful, I’ll post them here.

This large poster looks great on a dark blue wall. It purports to be the complete collection of the Birds of North America. But it’s not true. For starters, it depicts only about 750 bird species, and big year birders have recorded over 800 since Hawai’i was added to the ABA area (and the poster includes a bunch of Hawai’ian birds). While it includes long-gone species like Passenger Pigeon, Eskimo Curlew, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Oaho Oo, and Great Auk, it’s missing a few regulars in the United States (much less the birds of Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies, which are part of North America). Just from a quick look, I don’t see Red-throated Pipit, or Eared Quetzal,  or Pacific Wren, or Blue-footed Booby, for starters. And there’s nearly a dozen parrots and parakeets you can see in Los Angeles that aren’t depicted. But quibbling over counting aside, it’s a beautiful poster.

We’ve got some other cool bird-art around the house, too. One of my favorites is a big chunk of tree bark full of sapsucker holes that I found in a park one day. We’ve also got a delicate bird nest sitting atop a shelf (I found it askew on the ground, empty of eggs and presumably abandoned). And I’ve printed out a few of my favorite bird photographs, though I haven’t put any of them in frames or up on the wall yet.

Costa Rica (2019) #7: The Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal Savegre Valley Costa Rica

Having pleased the morning crowd, a male Resplendent Quetzal flies away

The Resplendent Quetzal is Truly Sumptuous

A trip to Costa Rica gives a birder the chance to see one of the most spectacular birds on Earth: the Resplendent Quetzal. It is, indeed, a mythical bird. The plumed serpent God Quetzalcoatl of Mesoamerica, who helped create Earth, was said to wear the long tail feathers of the Resplendent Quetzal. A Guatemalan legend has it that when the Quiche Maya warrior prince Tecun Uman was injured in battle against Spanish conquistadors, a Resplendent Quetzal flew down and dipped his chest in the warrior’s blood. It is the national bird of Guatemala, which named its currency the quetzal. On top of its legendary status, it is a jaw-dropping combination of red, green, and blue, with a golden crest and ridiculous tail feathers.

A Resplendent Quetzal at the center of the Guatemala flag

So there was no doubt that we’d head to the central highlands–the money spot in Costa Rica for Resplendent Quetzal–to try and see one. As I described in a previous post, we reserved lodging for a few nights at the Savegre Hotel. You can hire guides to take you at sunrise to the spots where Resplendent Quetzals are being seen. Or, if you’re like me and generally frown on paying for guides, you can ask around for tips and directions and try to find it yourself. Half the fun, after all, is the hunt.

So I asked around for tips and directions.  On the first morning, I took my son and I to the wrong place. We walked up the road behind the hotel instead of driving up the road out of the valley.  That mistake produced 6 lifers, so it wasn’t a total bust. The second day, up again at dawn, we went to the right place, but missed the quetzals by 15 minutes. It was on our third morning–this time to the right place and at the right time, and best of all with the whole family–that we were rewarded with a male-female pair of Resplendent Quetzals.

Resplendent Quetzal Savegre Valley Costa Rica

We had obscured, but tantalizing, views at first

The quetzals typically fly in just after dawn, feed on the fruit of their favorite avocado trees, and then take off out of sight. They apparently frequent the same spot for a few days at a time, until they’ve eaten all the avocados. The current spot was, as it was described to me, “cerca de una casita” at a bend in the road. Some important follow-up questions after our first day failure made it clear that the casita was just past the Trogon Lodge. With confidence that we had the spot and a good chance that we’d find a quetzal (or at least find all the birders hoping to find a quetzal), the whole family was in for our third attempt.

We rose 30 minutes before sunrise (which in January in Costa Rica is 5am), grabbed bananas and snacks, and were on the road. When we got to the spot, there were a few cars already parked. The birders were standing around in a way that made it clear the quetzals hadn’t arrived yet. There were a half-dozen local guides with their paying customers (not all of whom I’d describe as birders). 

As we waited, I heard a faint but repeated hoot  across the valley. A couple of guides  heard it, too, and said it was the Resplendent Quetzal. As word spread, a quiet excitement took over the crowd. Then, a minute later, a pair of Resplendent Quetzals flew in. They came from across the valley. And it was a beautiful arrival. The male dragged his tail across the road and into the trees, where he moved about feeding. While he did, the female perched on electrical wires along the road. The male was a good distance off, but the views were still amazing. 

Resplendent Quetzal Savegre Valley Costa Rica

So resplendent – photo by my son

I enjoy photographing birds in addition to finding and studying their behavior. Before I was able to get a good shot of the male quetzal, my oldest son asked if he could have the camera. I selfishly hesitated for a second, but then happily handed over the camera. Not wanting to miss out, my youngest son asked for the camera too. It was a birder Dad dream scenario. My oldest son took the great shot above showing the crest, yellow bill, metallic green chest, red belly, the white undertail feathers, and the long blue-green tail feathers that males grow for breeding. I couldn’t have done better myself.

As I mentioned, we were fortunate to see a pair of Resplendent Quetzals. The female, like most bird species, doesn’t bother with showy appearance. She lacks the crest and green head, and doesn’t have a red belly or grow long tail feathers. But no one would describe her as plain. I found her subdued color scheme no less spectacular than the male.

The Resplendent Quetzal is one of 6 quetzal species on Earth (some think that Resplendent Quetzal should be split into 2 species). They are members of the trogon family, often colorful birds that love fruit (and, therefore, love the tropics). They range from southern Mexico to Panama. In a story told over and over again, habitat loss has their numbers decreasing. The best part about finding the Resplendent Quetzal was that the whole family was there. It’s not easy to rise in darkness, but the payoff on this day was tremendous. It was a memory we’ll all treasure for a long time.

Selfie with quetzal in background (somewhere)