The Quetzal and the Cloud Forest

Central American cloud forests remain the natural habitat of the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), one of six quetzal species, and the forests above Boquete are some of the best places in the world to see this elusive creature. The quetzal has been revered since the days of the ancient Maya, who called it the winged serpent. The female quetzal is attractive, but the male, with its distinctive crimson belly, blue-green back, and long tail, is spectacular. Though a mature bird stands just 14 inches tall (think "robin" for body size), male quetzals have two- to three-foot tail feathers that float behind them and more than double their length. Its unforgettable appearance notwithstanding, the quetzal can be difficult to spot in the lush foliage of the cloud forest. You might want to hire a local birding guide who can take you to spots where they commonly feed, or reproduce during the February to June nesting season. (In the spirit of equality between the sexes, male and female take turns incubating the eggs.) Even if you have little interest in bird-watching, taking a tour to Finca Lérida or one of the other spots above Boquete where quetzals are common, is highly recommended. Though you may not catch a glimpse of the legendary resplendent quetzal, you're bound to see dozens of other spectacular birds, and the quetzal's cloud-forest habitat is a magically beautiful ecosystem. If you do catch a glimpse of this bird-watcher’s Holy Grail, consider yourself fortunate.

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