Captivating Trogons

Collared Trogon, male, Finca Cantaros, San Vito, Costa Rica

Collared Trogon, male, Finca Cantaros, San Vito, Costa Rica

The Neotropical Trogoniformes is an impressive family:  twenty-five species of remarkably attractive birds. For me, seeing a trogon in the forest is akin to being a whale watcher at sea and spotting a humpback breaching the waves–it’s that thrilling. To be able to spot two different trogon species from time to time in our own Finca Cantaros woods is immensely gratifying. Twenty-one years ago, there was only pasture; now there are stunning symbols of healthy rain forest. I am still looking for a decaying tree with a breeding pair: trogons are cavity nesters. Many years ago Alexander Skutch, an icon of ornithology in Costa Rica, saw a pair of Violaceous Trogon (now called Gartered Trogon) take over an inhabited wasp nest,  attacking the wasps and excavating at the same time. He noted that the wasps did not attempt to sting or drive them away.

Black-throated Trogon, female, La Selva Biological Station, OTS

Black-throated Trogon, female, La Selva Biological Station, OTS

A moderately good whistler, I have successfully imitated the Collared Trogon’s call on several occasions. Early last Sunday I was able not only to “call in” a distant male, but to get a photograph of him (above) when he came to investigate.

To hear an 11-second recording from Xeno-Canto of the call of the Collared Trogon, click here and an audio player will open in a new tab/window. Then click the play ( ►) button. Close that tab/window to return to this post.

Trogons swoop in, take a perch, stick to it, rotating their heads slowly, looking around and up and down. Their behavior involves careful observation and strategic moves; they take their time checking out the area, staying still in moderately low branches–at times completely quiet–and sometimes staring right at the lucky soul who happens to be near. It’s a photographer’s dream sighting, but a rare occasion.

Once I saw a Gartered Trogon eating cecropia fruits. Trogons also feed on palm and other fruits which they pluck while hovering. Trogons have finely serrated bills which allow them to hunt and hold on to large insects, lizards and even small snakes. My mother, uncle and I, while visiting San Gerardo de Dota in Costa Rica’s mountains, were astounded when we saw a male Resplendent Quetzal (the most spectacular member of the trogon family) land near us on the ground in a grassy area, catch a snake, start to fly away, drop the wriggling snake, go back, pick it up, and fly away with it. We stared at each other in disbelief!  It’s important to remember all those moments, when chance smiles  upon you in a fine form of feathers.

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A superb reference guide from which I gathered some facts about the Trogoniformes is A Neotropical Companion-An Introduction to the Animals, Plants & Ecosystems of the New World Tropics by John Kricher, Princeton University Press, 1997.

Resplendent Quetzal, female, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica by Harry Hull

Resplendent Quetzal, female, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica. Photo by Harry Hull

Resplendent Quetzal, male, Las Tablas, Coto Brus, Costa Rica. Photo by Henry Barrantes, Desafios Tours

Resplendent Quetzal, male, Las Tablas, Coto Brus, Costa Rica. Photo by Henry Barrantes, Desafios Tours

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