The sacred bird of the Gods
It looks like a green flash which comes down from the sky. But soon it becomes clear — it is a male quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), rising in a spiralling skyward flight and then disappearing with a croaking call into the forest canopy. All this is part of its courtship ritual.
Known for its shimmering tail feathers which are up to 80 cm long, the quetzal is considered the most spectacular and culturally important species in Central America.
The timid forest-dweller has once been revered as sacred by the Aztecs and Mayans, and admired as a symbol of beauty and freedom. The magnificent long tail feathers were worn as a headdress only by great rulers and divine priests. Today, because of its ancient significance, it is Guatemala's national bird. It graces the national shield and flag, and the local currency is called Quetzal.
The Quetzal lives in the dense cloud forests of Central America. Despite its vibrant, glittering metallic feathers it cannot be found easily in dense vegetation because its magnificent plumage offers excellent camouflage. Within its range it plays a considerable role for seed dispersal of wild avocado trees. The quetzal is among the only fruit-eating birds able to swallow the fruits as a whole and then to excretel the undigested seeds at some distance from the source tree.
In spite of the fact that this fascinating bird has a key function within the cloud forest ecosystem and has become a major tourist attraction, it is endangered. In addition to hunting (its brilliant green feathers are highly desired), continuing deforestation is a serious threat to the survival of the species. The destruction of the lowland forests where the birds descend to during the breeding season and the expansion of agricultural areas have dramatic consequences for its limited habitat.
Therefore, Stiftung Artenschutz supports a conservation project of the Guatemalan organisation PROEVAL RAXMU. In cooperation with UPROBON, cloud forest areas in the Chelemhá Private Nature Reserve are purchased for conservation. Since the acquired land serves as a connection between three private nature reserves, the purchase is an essential measure in order to avoid fragmentation between the protected areas and thus for the conservation of the resplendent quetzal's population in the region.
Furthermore, the population will be monitored in order to develop effective conservation measures and evaluate their impact. The goal is to document population changes as well as alterations in the life cycle of the species (e.g. nesting and migration season). For this purpose, local farmers are trained to identify birds and to conduct scientific bird counts. An important secondary effect of this program is not only the increased environmental awareness among the local population but also the availability of an alternative income — the indigenous communities at both monitoring sites run tourism programs and bird census takers are skilled guides for birdwatching tours.
Stiftung Artenschutz supports the conservation actions in the region in cooperation with Vogelpark Heiligenkirchen.
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