Quetzal is a bird which can be found in the mountain or "cloud"
rain forest of Central America and throughout Amazonia. It is described
by Roger Tory Peterson and Edward Chalif in their book, Field Guide to
the Birds of Mexico, as "the most spectacular bird in the New World".
The bird's body measures about 14 inches in length, about the size of
a pigeon. However, it has tail feathers which can extend as long as three
feet. Both the male and the female are an iridescent emerald and golden
green with tail feathers in iridescent blues and greens with white undertails.
The green camouflages them in the rain forest. The male has a head crest
and red breast feathers with a white undertail. The females are duller
and have fewer red breast feathers and short tail plumes. The Quetzal
is truly a splendid bird.
the Feathered Serpent, was a god of the Toltec-Maya peoples. He is seen
wearing the long tail plumes of the male quetzal. The name quetzal is
an ancient Mexican term for the tail feather, which means "precious"
or "beautiful " The Aztec of Mexico allowed only royalty or
the nobility to use the tail plumes of the Resplendent Quetzal. Elaborate
headdresses made from the plumes of the male quetzals were worn in Aztec
ceremonies. The birds were caught live and their tail feathers were removed.
The birds were then released to grow new feathers.
Quetzal is also the most sacred symbol of the Mayas. Eighty percent of
the present day inhabitants of Guatemala and the neighboring Mexican states
of Yucatan, Quintano Roo, and Chiapas are descendants of the ancient Mayas.
To the ancient Mayas the Quetzal symbolized freedom and wealth. Freedom,
because a Quetzal will die in captivity; wealth, because the Mayas were
traders, and quetzal feathers along with jade were their most sought after
treasures. These were traded by the Mayas as far north as the central
valley of Mexico and as far south as the Empire of the Incas (over three
thousand miles) an area that is about eight times the size of their home
are shy, quiet birds except during courtship. At this time the males become
more active with high spiral flights used to impress and attract the females.
They chase the females through the trees of the cloud forest. The breeding
season is during March, April, May, and June. They usually lay two eggs
and both parents are responsible for raising the young. The main diet
of the quetzal is fruit. However, they also eat insects, frogs, and lizards.
Today the male Quetzal appears on the Guatemalan flag, coat of arms, and stamps. The name "quetzal" is also used as a monetary unit. One Quetzal is equal to one U.S. dollar. Collectors value the older, rare silver coins at $400.
Modern day Mayas see the Quetzal as a symbol of their proud way of life. The future of the quetzal, however, is certain extinction unless something is done now to protect its habitat. The rain forests are being cleared and burned to plant crops for food, with little or no regard for the quetzal or other species of animals which will no longer exist after the destruction of their homes. Future generations may never know the living quetzal.
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