can you buy a quetzal bird

This story about my experience searching for a resplendent quetzal bird in Guatemala was inspired by an article I wrote for BBC Wildlife Magazine. If you’re looking for tips on where to go and how to spot a Guatemalan quetzal, scroll down to the bottom.

No AI was involved in the writing of this post, so any errors you spot are mine and mine alone!

The sneeze begins as a tickle in my right nostril. Almost imperceptible: a mosquito landing delicately on your arm, ready to strike. A minuscule irritation that swells into my sinuses until it demands to be released into the quiet jungle.

And for the record, I am not a quiet sneezer. Some people hiccup gently into a tissue or emit a delicate squeak, but not me. My sneezes are window-shattering blasts that reverberate into next month.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem, except that Alfredo thinks he’s just seen a resplendent quetzal. And any sudden noise will certainly scare it away.

Searching for the resplendent quetzal bird in Guatemala

My sole purpose in visiting the Mirador Rey Tepepul preserve, which is located outside of Santiago Atitlán, is to search for the elusive resplendent quetzal. A visit to Guatemala would not be complete without witnessing this magnificent bird in the wild. Its iridescent green head and wings, spiky green crest, red breast, and twin tail plumes, which can reach up to one meter in length, make it an iconic bird. Or should that be ‘feathers’?.

I’ve heard that this nature reserve near the beautiful Lake Atitlan is one of the best places in Guatemala to spot resplendent quetzals, so I’ve booked an early morning birdwatching hike with Birding Atitlán Expeditions, and my guide Alfredo is going to try to find one for me. Alfredo, my guide from Birding Atitlan Expeditions

He tells me as we head out on a narrow path that slopes steeply upward into the jungle, which is damp and vibrant green from last night’s heavy rainfall, “It’s not really the season to spot quetzals right now.” “The best time to come is during nesting season. Once we locate the nests, we can direct guests to them; all you have to do is wait for the parents to return. ”.

Taking out his phone, Alfredo tortures me by showing me several beautiful pictures of parent quetzals jumping in and out of an exposed tree stump. “Here are some I took recently. ”.

Beautiful to look at, but it doesn’t do anything to ease my FOMO. Male resplendent quetzal in Guatemala. Photo by Birding Atitlan Expeditions.

2/ Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera (aka Biotopo del Quetzal), Coban

As the name implies, this nature reserve in Guatemala’s central lush cloud forest is a great place to try to spot quetzals. situated roughly midway between Coban and

There is a store, a visitor center, and two trails at the Biotopo del Quetzal: the shorter Sendero los Helechos (Fern Trail) is about 2 km long, and the longer Sendero los Musgos (Moss Trail) is roughly 3 km long. 5 km.

Many tour companies provide tours that pick you up from your Coban lodging; longer day trips are also available from Guatemala City or Antigua.

However, compared to prior years, it might be a little more difficult to see one now. According to Alfredo, in order to attract more quetzals to the area, rangers at the Biotopo del Quetzal establish artificial nesting sites. It worked for a while, but as more nests were built, more squirrels were drawn to the area. These squirrels then ran up the trees to eat the quetzal eggs, which further reduced the population.

Fun fact: Despite fierce opposition from logging companies, environmentalist Mario Dary, after whom the preserve is officially named, fought to create a safe habitat for quetzals. He was murdered in 1981. Male resplendent quetzal with a meal for its chicks. Photo by Birding Atitlan Expeditions.

Finding a Guatemalan quetzal bird

My optimism is dwindling after three hours of hiking, and soon it will be time to begin the arduous walk back to the car. Where are they? However, Alfredo wants to check out one more feeding location. We trudge up another hill, when suddenly he stops. Behind him, I stop too.

“Shhh!” he breathes sharply, his eyes gleaming with victory. “Do you hear that? It’s a quetzal!” he exclaims, peeping eagerly through the foliage to try and make out But the foliage is too dense. We need to get closer.

At this point, I start to sneeze—a light tingle that intensifies rapidly to a loud snort. I bury my face in my sleeve and do my best to muffle the explosion out of fear of frightening away the bird. I just have to hope that any quetzals nearby aren’t paying attention. Alfredo has spotted a quetzal!.

Alfredo is too distracted to notice. Following the sound, he dives off the side of the path and slip-slides downhill between tangles of trunks. I follow after him, trying to stay silent and see where he’s pointing.

We soon arrive at a bright, spacious area with views of another group of trees thanks to Alfredo’s unconventional shortcut. He whispers to me to stay in the shadows so that I won’t be seen. Then he raises his binoculars and looks again.

“I see them! A male and female pair!” he exclaims excitedly. “Look! Get your camera ready!” I say as I nudge toward him and look through the foliage to see where he’s pointing.

Then I spot them: the male sitting a few branches below the female, who is perched high up and has a less vibrant green breast and belly. It has lost its stunning tail plumes now that breeding season is over, but it still looks as magnificent as its name implies, with bright green feathers that shimmer in the sunlight, a large black eye, and a cute yellow beak that give it a lively, inquisitive expression.

I focus my lens on the male and only get three shots out of it before it disappears, maybe scared off by our presence.

It’s over in seconds, but it’s enough. I came here to take pictures of quetzals, and that is exactly what I did. And it’s almost more satisfying than the sighting itself when I turn to face Alfredo and see his beaming relief at having been able to fulfill my wish.