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Quetzal, a sacred bird of precious feathers and divinity

The Quetzal is one of the most colorful birds in the world, in fact, it is considered the most beautiful in America. For ancient cultures it was a sacred animal linked to divinity.

The feathered snake

For the Mexica, its name cones from the Nahuatl quetzalli, which means ‘beautiful bright feather’, and for the Maya, it means ‘bright and precious feather’.

Quetzal, sacred animal.
Revista Selecciones México

The quetzal has a bright yellow beak and green feathers on its crest. Although it is a medium size bird, it has a long, thin tail. So when it flies it looks like a feathered snake, with moves and pirouettes that are a show for nature.

Because of these characteristics, the Maya associated quetzal with Kukulkan. And the Mexica to Quetzalcoatl, gods that were represented as feathered snakes.

The quetzal, a sacred symbol

Quetzal was also seen as a symbol of power, wealth, abundance, fertility, freedom and life. Therefore, their feathers were used exclusively for emperor and priest’s clothing.

Quetzals were not hunted. As it was a sacred animal, they only took their feathers and set them free. There was even a death penalty for those who dare to kill one of this beautiful birds.

Quetzal, sacred bird.

An endangered specie

This bird feeds on fruits, specially avocados, and also insects, lizards and other small vertebrate animals. They live mostly in Chiapas, Mexico’s forests and they are also found in Guatemala, where it is considered a national bird.

Sadly, this species are endangered. They are protected nationally and internationally. The number has been decreasing because of the destruction of their ecosystem, as well as for hunting and illegal trafficking of its valuable feathers.

Let’s value our ancestors beautiful quetzals!

Quetzal, linked to divinity.

Main Photo: National Geographic

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