Quetzal 101: How to Spot Panama’s Most Popular Bird

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Quetzal 101: How to Spot Panama’s Most Popular Bird

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What's with Boquete and its Quetzals? Yep. They're quite important. And yes, you can read more about them here...

Birdwatchers are a fierce and closely knit group of people and they will often travel to the ends of the earth to see birds in their native habitat. They even have their own language which is generally only understood by fellow birders. One of these terms is "spark" which refers to the one bird that sparks a lifelong obsession. Little did I know that my spark bird would be the one that many birders may not ever see.

One morning I woke up early to a Boquete sunrise and went outside to enjoy my coffee on the patio. Not moments after I sat down I spied a flash of green from the corner of my eye. I turned to look and there he was. A male Resplendent Quetzal flew across my yard to the safety of the pine tree. I immediately took to Facebook to crow about what I'd just seen and my birder friends replied with dismay and jealousy. Many of them had searched for the Quetzal for years, traveling all over Central America and I just happened to see one in my yard.

The Resplendent Quetzal can be found from the southern highlands of Mexico to western Panama and has a deeply rooted history in many ancient Mesoamerican cultures. It is the national bird of Guatemala and is revered throughout Central America. It's also considered to be a life bird by those in the birding community which means these people consider the Quetzal to be the one bird they must see before they die.

The Resplendent Quetzal tops many bird watcher lists as a must see...
The Resplendent Quetzal tops many bird watcher lists as a must see...

Cloud forests are the Quetzal's natural habitat so Boquete is the ideal place to spot one of these beautiful creatures. If you'd like to track down Panama's most popular bird, these are a few ways you can see the bird that most people never will.

Take a Hike

Boquete's beautiful hiking trails take you through the cloud forests so chances are good you can spot the Quetzal if you know where to look. The famed Quetzal trail which leads all the way to Guadalupe near Cerro Punta is a good place to try. The White Rock Trail is also known for its many reports of Quetzal sightings.

Hiking in Boquete searching for the Resplendent Quetzal

Both trails are relatively easy for people with a moderate fitness level, but caution should always be taken. Be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back or hire a guide, which is definitely the safest option.

The Quetzal's Habitat

The Quetzal has some pretty specific demands when it comes to its habitat, so knowing where the bird likes to live is half the battle.

Quetzals are considered to be weak fliers and they're targeted by numerous predators so they prefer to remain stationary. Unless it's mating season the birds are solitary, so late spring and early summer (February to May) are the times when the birds are most active.

The female builds her nest in dead trees which are easily hollowed out so be on the lookout. The Quetzal also loves to eat avocados so if you spot an avocado tree on your search hang out for a while to see if a Quetzal stops by for a meal.

Hiking in Boquete searching for the Resplendent Quetzal
Photo source: quapan

Always have binoculars and your camera at the ready because if you see one you'll need to act quickly to get a closer look or a photo.

Hire a Guide

One of the best ways to practically guarantee a Quetzal sighting is to hire an expert local guide. Boquete birdwatching guides are intimately familiar with the area and through their years of expertise know when and where these elusive birds are best spotted. Finca Lerida has a great reputation as does Explora Ya.

Even if you don't spot a Quetzal during your guided tour you'll get an in-depth view of the cloud forests and the unique plants and animals that thrive in the area. Local Boquete guides are experts and you'll see and learn much more than you would if you took your hike on your own.

Spotting a Resplendent Quetzal is a moment you'll remember for the rest of your life. Consider these tips during your next visit to Boquete and cross your fingers. You may see the beautiful bird that others can only dream about.

At the end of a hike in Boquete enjoying the view from the mountain top
Many people travel to Boquete with the main goal of seeing a Quetzal...

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Search our blog if you're visiting Panama! From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss, you'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while in our country! We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years and nothing beats local knowledge from the locals themselves.


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