We found a quetzal in the wild! Can you believe it? We were on the return journey of a hike to a waterfall here in San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica when Dave spotted a brilliantly colored male quetzal in the trees. For nearly fifteen minutes we had him all to ourselves and Dave clicked photo after photo. There are only 80 quetzal couples left in the cloud forest here and spotting them isn’t guaranteed. Visitors from all over the world come to San Gerardo to observe them in the wild and many leave disappointed without ever seeing one. As we sat enjoying the waterfall at the end of the first leg of our hike, we chatted with a couple from Holland who taught Dave to imitate the call of the quetzal and as we hiked back home Dave kept whistling it. And then……… all of a sudden a quetzal flew into a tree in a little clearing. It was a magic moment.
Quetzals mostly eat the fruit of the wild avocado tree and farmers in San Gerardo are planting more and more of these trees to attract quetzals to this valley and keep them here. There is also a law that no trees in the valley can be cut down. Any new buildings must be erected on land that has already been cleared. There is a real effort to preserve this quetzal habitat. And no wonder. These birds considered sacred by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs bring thousands and thousands of tourists here each year. The males are much more brilliantly colored than the females and during the mating season, which has just begun now in February, they grow these long twin tails that can be up to a meter long to attract females. Males need to be three years old before they can grow a tail. Once they’ve mated a pair of quetzals use their beaks to enlarge holes in trees made by other birds and animals to make a nest for their two or three blue eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and bringing food to the babies once they hatch, but many mothers abandon their babies near the end of the nesting period and the father is left alone to care for the fledglings. After about three weeks the babies are ready to fly on their own.
After finding this quetzal Dave kept doing his quetzal calls and sure enough a little further down the trail both a male and female appeared in the trees. Unfortunately they didn’t stay long enough to photograph. But we’d seen three quetzals on just one hike! We’ve given Dave the nickname ‘quetzal whisperer.’ I think he’s pretty proud of it!
My husband Dave took all the photos in this post.