Pharomachrus auricepsgolden-headed quetzal

Geographic Range

Pharomachrus auriceps, also known as golden-headed quetzals, inhabits regions of Central and South America spanning from the Darién province of Panama to Northern Bolivia. ("Trogons and Quetzals of the World", 2000)


Pharomachrus auriceps lives in moist mountainous forest areas ranging from 1,000 to 3,300 m elevation. They seek out rotted, standing trees to excavate nest cavities. They prefer areas of dense vegetation to conceal the nesting cavity as well as themselves. ("Trogons and Quetzals of the World", 2000)

  • Range elevation
    1,000 to 3,300 m
    to ft

Physical Description

Pharomachrus auriceps are recognized for their bright iridescent green body and wings, like other members of the genus Pharomachrus. They weigh between 154 and 182 g with a wingspan of 30 to 36 cm. Their remiges are darker metallic green, and the retrices of the tail are black, occasionally with white tips. The tail is covered by dark green feathers, which are slightly longer in the males. Tail length ranges from 155 to 177 mm in males and 157 to 172 mm in females. The breast and belly of both sexes are covered with brilliant red feathers. The male has a coppery-green colored head and throat, while the female’s head plumage is a duller golden-brown color. The males are distinguishable from other quetzal species because they lack a crest of head feathers. They have short, broad bills that are yellow in the males and a darker brown color in the females. Unlike many of the trogons, the maxilla of their beaks do not have serrated edges.

Both males and females have dark olive green or brownish legs and feet. Like other trogons, they have heterodactyl feet, with the first and second toes facing backwards and the third and fourth toes facing forward. When immature, both sexes are dark brown or black, with a few iridescent green feathers starting to grow. Younger golden-headed quetzals lack the ornamental wing and tail coverts of the adult birds. ("Pilco o Quetzal Cabeza Dorada", 2006; "Trogons and Quetzals of the World", 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    154 to 182 g
    5.43 to 6.41 oz
  • Range wingspan
    30.8 to 35.9 cm
    12.13 to 14.13 in


Pharomachrus auriceps lives in seasonal monogamous pairs and males attract potential mates by singing. ("Brooding behaviour and nestling description of the Golden-headed Quetzal", 2008)

Pharomachrus auriceps nest in unlined tree cavities, excavated by the adults. Females lay 1 or 2 blue eggs once yearly between February and June. Incubation lasts for 18 to 20 days, and chicks fledge 25 to 30 days after hatching. Juveniles reach sexual maturity at 2 years old. ("Brooding behaviour and nestling description of the Golden-headed Quetzal", 2008; "Trogons and Quetzals of the World", 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    Golden-headed quetzals breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Golden-headed quetzals breed between the months of February and June.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 2
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    18 to 20 days
  • Range fledging age
    24 to 30 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

The parents often carve a hole with their beaks into a rotting tree trunk to form a nest cavity. If there is already a hollow spot in an old tree, they will modify it to make their nest. Both males and females alternate brooding. During the first week, the male spends more time brooding but after the initial seven days the female broods more frequently. During the initial week after the eggs hatch, the parents collectively spend 70 to 84 percent of the day brooding. However, after about two weeks, the parents spend less than 20 percent of their day at the nest. This decrease in brooding time likely corresponds to the initial altricial state of chicks, which slowly develop enough feathers to insulate themselves. Adults clean the nest by carrying away excrement and regurgitated food matter. Both parents bring insects and fruit to the nest to feed the young. ("Brooding behaviour and nestling description of the Golden-headed Quetzal", 2008; "Pilco o Quetzal Cabeza Dorada", 2006; "Trogons and Quetzals of the World", 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Due to the golden-headed quetzal’s elusive nature, little is known about its lifespan in the wild. The Houston and Denver Zoos have golden-headed quetzal's in captivity. the Denver Zoo suggests that they have had three quetzals for over 20 years and that one turned 29 at the end of October 2014. ("Golden-headed Quetzal", 2003)


Golden-headed quetzals are solitary birds except during breeding season, in which they form monogamous pairs. They sometimes migrate to lower elevations during the wet season, between May and October. They are very arboreal and rarely land on the ground. They fly short distances from branch to branch using rapid and powerful wingbeats in a rising and falling flight pattern. ("Birds of Venezuela", 2003)

Communication and Perception

Pharomachrus auriceps is usually quiet, but sometimes communicates with “giggling” vocalizations or horse-like whinnies. Its typical call is a melancholy, hawk-like whistle which sounds like “we-wheeoo, we-wheeoo”. Like all birds, Pharomachrus auriceps perceives its environment through visual, auditory, tactile, and chemical stimuli. ("Brooding behaviour and nestling description of the Golden-headed Quetzal", 2008; Restall, et al., 2006; Ridgely and Gwynne, 1989)

Food Habits

The majority of Pharomachrus auriceps's diet consists of pulpy fruits and berries, but they will also eat insects, including smooth-skinned caterpillars, beetles, and locusts. They occasionally will eat small vertebrates such as frogs and lizards. Golden-headed quetzals in captivity at the Houston Zoo were observed eating chopped baby mice, mealworms, and dog chow when they were offered, although they preferred fruit. ("Trogons and Quetzals of the World", 2000)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Like other quetzals, Pharomachrus auriceps flies to escape danger, and its iridescent green color provides camouflage in its verdant habitat. ("Trogons and Quetzals of the World", 2000)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

There is no specific information for the ecosystem roles of Pharomachrus auriceps. However, birds with frugivorous diets are often important seed dispersers.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Quetzals were renowned as mythical creatures by the Aztecs, who associated them with the avian god Quetzalcoatyl. Today, quetzals such as P. auriceps are important for ecotourism in developing nations, drawing birdwatchers from all over the globe who hope to get a glimpse of their legendary beauty. ("The Myth of Quetzalcoatl", 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of P. auriceps on humans.

Conservation Status

Although P. auriceps are currently of least concern, their rainforest habitat is being destroyed by deforestation in South America. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2009; "Trogons and Quetzals of the World", 2000)


Katie Longardner (author), Florida State University, Emily DuVal (editor), Florida State University, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


2003. Birds of Venezuela. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

1999. The Myth of Quetzalcoatl. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

2000. Trogons and Quetzals of the World. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

2008. Brooding behaviour and nestling description of the Golden-headed Quetzal. Cotinga, 30: 47-50.

2003. "Golden-headed Quetzal" (On-line). Houston Zoo, Inc.. Accessed February 10, 2010 at>..

2009. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed February 12, 2010 at <>. .

2006. "Pilco o Quetzal Cabeza Dorada" (On-line). Parque Nacional de Perú. Accessed February 10, 2010 at

Restall, R., C. Rodner, M. Lentino. 2006. Birds of Northern South America: An Identification Guide. London: Helm Field Guides.

Ridgely, R., J. Gwynne. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Panama: With Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Princeton: Princeton University Press.