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QUEZAL, or QUESAL

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 747 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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QUEZAL, or QUESAL, the Spanish-American name for one of the most beautiful of birds, abbreviated from the Aztec or Maya Quetzal-tototl, the last part of the compound word meaning fowl, and the first, also written Cuetzal, the long feathers of rich green with which it is adorned). The Quezal is one of the Trogons (q.v.), and was originally described by Hernandez (Historic, p. 13), whose account was faithfully copied by F. Willughby. Yet the bird remained practically unknown to ornithologists until figured in 1825, from a specimen belonging to Leadbeater,2 by C. J. Temminck (Pl. col., 372), who, however, mistakenly thought it was the same as the Trogon pavoninus, a congeneric but quite distinct species from Brazil, that had just been described by Spix. The scientific determination of the Quetzal-bird of Central America seems to have been first made by C. L. Bonaparte in 1826, as Trogon paradiseus, according to his statement in the Zoological Society's Proceedings 1 The Mexican deity Quetzal-coatl had his name, generally translated " Feathered Snake," from the quetzal, feather or bird, and coati, snake, as also certain kings or chiefs, and many places, e.g. Quezalapan, Quezaltepec, and Quezaltenango, though perhaps some of the last were named directly from the personages (cf. Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States, vol. v., Index). Quetzalitzli is said to be the emerald. 2 This specimen had been given to Canning (a tribute, perhaps, to the statesman who boasted that he had " called a New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old ") by Mr Schenley, a diplomatist, and was then thought to be unique in Europe; but, apart from those which had reached Spain, where they lay neglected and undescribed, James Wilson says (Illustr. Zoology, pl. vi. text) that others were brought with it, and that one of them was given to the Edinburgh Museum. On the 21st day of the sale of Bullock's Museum in 1819, Lot 38 is entered in the Catalogue as " The Tail Feather of a magnificent undescribed Trogon," and probably belonged to this species.for 1837 (p. 101); but it is not known whether the fact was ever published. In 1832 the Registro Trimestre, a literary and scientific journal printed at Mexico, contained a communication by Dr. Pablo de la Llave, describing this species (with which he first became acquainted before 181o, from examining more than a dozen specimens obtained by the natural-history expedition to New Spain and kept in the palace of the Retiro near Madrid) under the name by which it is now known, Pharomacrus mocino 3 Quezal, male and female. These facts, however, being almost unknown to the rest. of the world, J. Gould, in the Zoological Proceedings for 1835 (p. 29), while pointing out Temminck's error, gave the species the name of Trogon resplendens, which it bore for some time. Yet little or nothing was generally known about the bird until Delattre sent an account of his meeting with it to the Echo du monde savant for 1843, which was reprinted in the Revue zoologique for that.year (pp. 163-165). In 186o the nidification of the species, about which strange stories had been told to the naturalist last named, was determined, and its eggs, of a pale a De la Llave's very rare and interesting memoir was reprinted by M. Salle in the Revue et magazin de zoologie for 1861 (pp. 23-33). bluish-green, were procured by Robert Owen (P. Z. S., r86o, p. 374; Ibis, 1861, p. 66, pl. ii. fig. 1); while further and fuller details of its habits were made known by O. Salvin (Ibis, 1861, pp. 138—149), from his own observation of this very local and remarkable species. Its chief home is in the mountains near Coban in Vera Paz, but it also inhabits forests in other parts of Guatemala at an elevation of from 6000 to 9000 ft. The Quezal is hardly so big as a Turtle-Dove. The cock has a fine yellow bill and a head bearing a rounded crest of filamentous feathers; lanceolate scapulars overhang the wings, and from the rump spring the long flowing plumes which are so characteristic of the species, and were so highly prized by the natives before the Spanish conquest that no one was allowed to kill the bird when taken, but only to divest it of its feathers, which were to be worn by the chiefs alone. These plumes, the middle and longest of which may measure from 3 ft. to 31 ft., with the upper surface, the throat, and chest, are of a resplendent golden-green,' while the lower parts are of a vivid scarlet. The middle feathers of the tail, ordinarily concealed, as are those of the Peacock, by the uropygials, are black, and the outer white with a black base. In the hen the bill is black, the crest more round and not filamentous, the uropygials scarcely elongated, and the vent only scarlet. The eyes are of a yellowish-brown. Southern examples from Costa Rica and Veragua have the tail-coverts much narrower, and have been considered to form a distinct species, P. costaricensis. Among other species are P. antisianus, P. fulgidus, P. auriceps and P. pavoninus, from various parts of South America, but though all are beautiful birds, none possess the wonderful singularity of the quezal. (A. N.)
End of Article: QUEZAL, or QUESAL
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