When Bob and I visited Monteverde, we hiked in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve multiple times. One day, we found ourselves alone on a trail in the jungle. I was ahead of Bob when I heard him exclaim in a loud whisper “there they are!” I stopped in my tracks for Bob could only mean the Resplendent Quetzals. The pair was perched less than 20 feet to the side of the trail.
Bob and I had spent the morning at the Monteverde Butterfly Conservatory, and after lunch at Stella’s Bakery, we entered the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve to see what new discoveries we could make. Our guide accompanied us on these same trails two days earlier, but this time, Bob and I looked forward to prowling around on our own.
The weather was more favorable, and going at our own pace, we could relax and test our ability to locate birds and other creatures using the knowledge that we had gained from our guide, Ricardo Guindon.
The Cloud Forest truly is a jungle made possible by the constant supply of moisture from the low-hanging clouds. It is difficult for the sun to permeate the veil of fog so evaporation of the moisture is slow enabling a lush, green tropical forest to thrive.
As we navigated the many trails, Bob and I saw examples of the wide diversity of animals, insects and plants sustained by the life-giving moisture. Everywhere we looked, intricate and dainty flowers, seed pods and leaves provided interest…
and pops of colour.
It was easy to get distracted from the constant flitting of birds and continuous bird calls because any creature that crossed our paths sparked an interest. This Leaf Roller Moth certainly stood out against the green leaf upon which it sat, and it was the only individual of its kind that we saw while in Costa Rica.
We walked slowly and deliberately, always on the lookout for movement at ground level, in the undergrowth or in the canopy. Rounding one sloped bend in the trail had us coming upon this Buff-fronted Quail Dove foraging among the forest debris.
Eventually, we again found ourselves at the hanging bridge where a marvelous bird’s-eye view of the forest canopy was made possible even as we technically walked through the clouds. The afternoon was getting on so we turned our thoughts to finding a trail that would lead us back to the entrance of the Preserve.
As we strode along, our delight was immeasurable when our eyes alit on this male Resplendent Quetzal perched within feet of the trail. Because Quetzals are wary of intruders and very cautious, we were afraid of spooking them and moved about as though walking on egg shells.
Bob and I were so smitten with the beauty of the male Resplendent Quetzal that it took us several minutes to realize that the female was sitting on a branch nearby. Though the female is similar in colour to the male Quetzal, her more subtle coloration and lack of long tail coverts makes her less conspicuous.
There is good reason that a Resplendent Quetzal is considered the startling emerald jewel of a cloud forest. Its brilliantly glowing plumage shimmers with golden-green and blue-violet iridescence, and in full breeding plumage, the male Quetzal’s long, blue-green plumes grow to be almost 3 feet long.
Bob and I almost fell over with excitement when the female Resplendent Quetzal left her perch and flew to a nearby snag. It appeared that the pair of Quetzals had selected this dead tree trunk as a place to hollow out a nest hole.
Because of wet forest conditions, thin soil, persistent strong winds, frequent small earthquakes, and rapid rate of decay, dead tree trunks do not remain standing for long in the cloud forest. In an effort to encourage nesting of Quetzals, artificial nest boxes have been made available to the birds. We saw this one and another rendition of a nest box during our various hikes in the Preserve.
The beak of a Quetzal is not strong enough to excavate a hole in a living tree, but the birds are quite capable of gnawing into the softer wood of a rotten stump or snag. Bob and I were fascinated as we watched the female Resplendent Quetzal use her beak to whittle away at the dead wood. Chips were flying everywhere.
After some time had passed, the female Resplendent Quetzal returned to her original perch for a rest, and the male took flight. At first, we thought he was leaving the area, but he headed straight to the dead snag to take a turn at boring into the tree trunk. Preparing a nest hole as well as incubation of the birds’ eggs is a shared responsibility.
In the Costa Rican cloud forest, Resplendent Quetzals build their nest hole about 30 feet off the ground. Once excavated, the hole will resemble that of a woodpecker, and in fact, Quetzals will sometimes enlarge holes started by toucans or woodpeckers. The entrance will be a mere 4 inches in diameter, with the cavity being about 8 inches wide and 12 inches deep.
Once their nest cavity is ready, a pair of Resplendent Quetzals mate within the chamber. Nesting materials are not provided, and the female will eventually lay her 2 eggs directly on the bottom of the cavity.
Although Resplendent Quetzals produce two broods a year, nest failure is quite high, in the 70% range.
Squirrels, such as this Variegated Squirrel that we saw in the cloud forest, and Toucanets pose particular threats to the Quetzals’ clutches of eggs and nestlings.
We photographed this Northern Emerald Toucanet in the Cloud Forest Preserve a couple of hours earlier as we descended from the lookout on the Continental Divide.
Bob and I watched enthralled as the Resplendent Quetzal male worked his magic on the nest hole before returning to his perch for a break. He must have been feeling quite relaxed because, usually, a male Quetzal will position itself in the canopy so that his red breast is not visible to intruders.
Bob and I observed the pair of Resplendent Quetzals quietly for at least a half hour during which time a few more hikers came along the trail. As a precaution, Bob walked back to greet those coming behind us and asked them to exercise discretion when nearing the birds.
The female Resplendent Quetzal soon would require the nest hole, and she worked tirelessly at hollowing it out. It was March 12, and breeding season for Resplendent Quetzals in Costa Rica is between March and June. It is timed to coincide with the abundance of fruit produced by plants of the laurel family, in particular Wild Avocados. The fruit is eaten whole and the pits regurgitated thus aiding in the spread of the trees throughout the forest.
When the female Resplendent Quetzal left the task at hand,
Bob and I took one last look at these magnificent birds before leaving them in peace. It is miraculous how Resplendent Quetzals are able to blend into the lustrous green background of their misty, mountain habitat. We can only hope that the cloud forests remain protected so that the Quetzals continue to grow in numbers given their present status as “Near Threatened”. We felt totally blessed to be in their presence.