I recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. This was my second trip to this beautiful country, a must-see for any birder. During our time there, we saw more than 140 bird species, over 100 of which we had never seen before. I’ll be sharing more about this trip in the weeks ahead, but I’m starting with what was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip – the chance to see and photograph the Resplendent Quetzal, which surely ranks among the most beautiful birds in the world.
How to See and Photograph a Resplendent Quetzal in 5 “Easy” Steps:
1. Fly to San Jose, Costa Rica. Drive to Savegre Lodge in the Talamanca Mountains. (This involves ascending to about 9,000 feet along the Pan American Highway, and then descending down to the lodge at about 7,200 feet along a mostly dirt road full of endless switchbacks without the security of guardrails.)
2. Hire a birding guide. Ours was named Melvin Fernandez, and we thought he was terrific.
3. Set your alarm for 5 a.m. Be sure to dress warmly – it’s quite chilly in the mountains before sunrise, even in the tropics.
4. Follow your guide down the road and up a muddy mountain trail, where dozens of others will also be gathering. Stake your place and wait.
5. Listen and look and shiver and hope. With any luck, the birds will appear, and with even more luck, they’ll perch in the exact right tree as the sun rises, allowing you to take at least a few good photos. (Tip: Be careful if you’re staring at the bird with your mouth open for too long – a bug might fly right in. I speak from personal experience.)
Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) Facts
The Resplendent Quetzal (pronounced “ketz-AHLL”) has a very limited range in Central America (see a map here), and is found in high cloud forests. This member of the trogon family eats fruit supplemented with insects and lizards. They mainly forage for food early in the day, since once the sun rises they become an easy target for predators. Only the breeding males sport the long tail feathers, though the females and juveniles are very beautiful too. They mate for life, and families stay together for at least a year while the parents teach the young the things they need to know. The adult males even teach the young males the mating displays they’ll need to find their own mate. Learn more about this beautiful bird by clicking here.