In search of the elusive resplendent quetzal in Monteverde

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Visitors flock to Monteverde for many reasons.  It´s immense natural beauty, the mystical cloud forest, the sustainable, close-knit community, incredible adventure activities, a variety of great hotels, and delicious eateries.  It is also one of the best birding hotspots in Costa Rica, where the elusive, yet amazing Resplendent Quetzal likes to hang out, and what a sight it is!   The cloud forest is the perfect place to spot this colorful bird that was sacred to the ancient Mayan and Aztec peoples.  Let’s go in search of the elusive Resplendent Quetzal in Monteverde.

The appropriately named Resplendent Quetzal is considered by many avid bird watchers and lovers, as one of the most beautiful in the world. And it just so happens that it makes its nest and home in Costa Rica´s cloud forests including Monteverde.  This means Monteverde attracts quetzal admirers to its mountaintop with the hope of spotting the vibrant emerald, jade, aquamarine feathered bird with its red and white highlights.

Selvatura Adventure Park is a private nature reserve in Monteverde that is a world of adventure opportunities immersed with the cloud forest where the quetzals love to live.  A day at Selvatura is where the cloud forest takes on a whole new perspective with its adventure-charged activities for all ages.  From zip-lining through the cloud forest canopy to walking over the state-of-the-art suspension bridges, this is a day of fun in nature.  It is also a fantastic opportunity to do some wildlife spotting and birdwatching.

The cloud forest canopy or upper levels is where most of the birds and wildlife congregate. The higher branches and foliage are richer in fruit and other food sources and provide additional protection from forest floor dwellers. So, as you fly through the forest canopy, or walk over the treetop bridges at Selvatura Park, you are at the same height as many animals, birds, and Resplendent Quetzals!  Keep your eyes open to catch those vibrant colored feathers and long tails.

And the tails?

Yes, not only did the bright jade, aquamarine, and red feathers dress the ancient Mayan and Aztec priests and royalty. The three-foot-long twin feathered train of the Resplendent Quetzal was treasured when dressing up for ceremonies too.  This very impressive and distinctive tail is a trait of the male Resplendent Quetzal that it grows and is key to its success during mating season.

The female quetzal boasts those colorful green, red, and blue feathers but she is not graced with the incredible train.   The male quetzal needs that long tail as part of his famous conquest acrobatics and dance to woo his future partner.  She decides if his performance is worthy or not and if he will be her partner for the season…or not.

When can I see the Quetzal in Monteverde?

The Resplendent Quetzal graces us with its presence in the cloud forest of Monteverde during the months of January through May.  This is when they will mate and make their nest in rotted trees or stumps.

They will share the load when it comes to incubating the eggs although sometimes that beautiful tail will not fit in the nest so it will stick out.  While beautiful and imperative to attract a partner, it can become an obstacle while fulfilling those parental duties!

In June, the resplendent quetzals will move away from the higher altitudes and cloud forest of Monteverde down onto the Pacific coastal lowlands.

What are some tips for spotting the Quetzal?

To visit Monteverde’s cloud forests is the best tip to spotting the Resplendent Quetzal.  This is its preferred habitat, immersed within the cloud forest, and with a very good quota of patience, chances of spotting this beautiful bird increase.

The Resplendent Quetzal has a whistled call and a distinctive cackling song.  So, while in the cloud forest with your patience cap on, listen carefully for their peculiar sounds which may make spotting them easier as they are very good at remaining very still for long periods of time!

Quetzals love to feed on mini avocados that are called “aguacatillos” so when you find a fruit-laden tree of this kind while exploring the cloud forest, chances are there will be a quetzal enjoying a fruit feast.   They also like to feed on small insects and lizards to complement their fruit-based diet.

Put your Resplendent Quetzal search into the knowledgeable hands of a local birdwatching guide.  These local naturalist guides, many of whom have specialized in ornithology, are incredibly in tune with the Monteverde quetzals, their behavior, and conduct. This means that they have previously identified the most likely spots for viewing birds and the resplendent quetzal included, which increases your chances of spotting one or more.

Being at eye level with the cloud forest canopy

Selvatura Adventure Park has a team of on-site naturalist guides that can be hired for the 1.9-mile-long trail and suspended bridge walk.  It is a wonderful way to learn about the cloud forest, the tricks of birdwatching in Monteverde, and being at eye-level with the cloud forest canopy.  Furthermore, these wonderful guides have acquired eagle-eye capabilities so come prepared for lots of bird and animal viewing during your guided tour of the cloud forest.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve are quetzals and birdwatching hotspots that are worth visiting in your quest for viewing the Resplendent Quetzal in its natural habitat as well.   As cloud forests are threatened and the quetzal´s home is disappearing, Monteverde is a haven for them thanks to its network of protected lands and reserves.  This means Monteverde plays a critical role in their survival and possibilities to reproduce.

Selvatura Adventure Park and Monteverde invite you to visit the cloud forest and the treasures it holds within.  The Resplendent Quetzal is one of these treasures and could well be the most colorful, the most exotic, and the most beautiful bird around. It is no wonder that the Mayan peoples saw the quetzal as a messenger from the Gods and in your search for this exquisite multi-colored bird sitting quietly in the cloud forest canopy, you will understand why. See you in the cloud forest!

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