by Yucatan Times

Generally, the dazzling-colored trogon family of 43 species (more or less) are primarily found in the tropical, humid forests of the New World, Africa, and Asia. The family includes the sacred bird of the Mayas and Aztecs, the Resplendent Quetzal. Every trogon exhibits a unique characteristic unlike any other bird in the world: trogon toes! Their third and fourth toes face forward while the first and second toes face backward (heterodactyl).


Resplendent Quetzal


All trogon toes 1 and 2 face backward while 3 and 4 face frontward

They often perch upright, as if they have perfect posture, on a single limb with those special trogon toes and then sally forth to catch an insect or grab a fruit while still in flight, Then they return to their perch or similar one to dine. Some feed more on fruit than insects or vice versa but most eat both fruit and insects. Some supplement their menu with a lizard or frog or snail. Large insect prey may be smashed against a limb to extract guts. For many trogons, fruit seeds, such as figs and avocados, are regurgitated.

Trogons are cavity nesters and may use woodpecker holes, arboreal termite nests (termitaria), wasp nests (vespiaria), rotting stumps, epiphyte root balls, and sometimes ant nests. The word, “trogon” translates from Greek to “nibble, chew, gobble or gnaw.” Evidently this refers to their habit of chewing or gnawing decaying wood or other nest material with their small chicken-like bills to build their nests. They cannot hammer or chisel like a woodpecker and both sexes take turns in nest construction.


Arboreal termite nest


Slaty-tailed Trogon uses small bill to nibble out pieces of a termite nest for its nest construction


For this two part column, I’ll feature a few facts of trogon species found in Mexico to S. America and show a few cousins. Oh, and one cousin, the Elegant Trogon extends its range into Arizona, US.


SLATY-TAILED TROGON, Trogon massena, Coa Cola Oscura (Spanish)


Slaty-tailed Trogon male

Like typical trogons, this foot long or so trogon feeds on insects, fruits, and maybe small lizards, but it differs with some cousins by sharing a foraging relationship with white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capuchinus) and cacique flocks. Capuchins and cacique birds may flush prey and the trogon can capture insects from those actions.

White-faced Capuchin

Although it may nest in stumps, it mainly uses termite nests which may be on trees, fence posts, or other low supports.  Both sexes alternately excavate a tube that ascends to a round chamber with a rim to prevent the eggs from falling out.(Other trogons may make a tube that descends.) Termites wall off the nest and don’t seem to bother the trogons. Regurgitated seeds may line the chamber for 2-3 eggs.

Also this species may aid in seed dispersal of the nutmeg tree. As a permanent resident of the Yucatan, this species is distributed down to NW South America.


BLACK-HEADED TROGON, Trogon melanocephalus, Coa Cabeza Negra (Spanish), Kuxtin or U’ulum Ka’axit (Mayan) No photo

Another Yucatan permanent resident, the10.5” Black-headed Trogon, ranges in open forests and mangroves east through Central America to northwestern Costa Rica. When nesting, it reacts differently to monkeys than the slaty-tailed. Instead of snatching up prey scattered by monkeys, this trogon gives alarm calls at capuchins and golden-mantled howler monkeys. Also the Orange-chinned Parakeet competes with this species for nest sites and may harass nesting trogons to abandon their nest.

Troublemaker Capuchin?


Mantled Howler family


WHITE-TAILED TROGON, Trogon chionurus,


White-tailed Trogon


This 10.5” trogon lives from western Panama to western Ecuador and appears to dine on more fruit than the smaller bodied species.

Appropriately named, “chionurus” means “snow-tailed.” Until recent gene testing, it was considered the same species as the Green-backed Trogon, but its plumage and vocalizations confirmed the differences.


ORANGE-BELLIED TROGON, Trogon aurantiventris


Orange-bellied Trogon

This species was known as the orange-bellied morph of the Red-bellied Collared Trogon, a Yucatan permanent resident. But the orange-bellied occurs in only small areas of humid forests and forest edges of Panama and Costa Rica. Imagine the red-belly of the Blue-crowned Trogon below on this Orange-bellied Trogon to create the look of the Collared Trogon.


BLUE-CROWNED TROGON, Trogon curucui peruvianus


Blue-crowned Trogon


With its red-belly, the Blue-crowned Trogon also resembles the Collared Trogon, except it has dark blue head and chest. This one was photographed on an early, early smoky morning in Peru. Uncommon in some of its range, it is located in the middle third of South America. Insects and spiders are its main food items along with some small fruits. Like many other trogons, it nests in a termitaria.


Stay tuned for Part 2 in September and the “Plumed Serpent.”




AUHTOR’S NOTES: Even though these 43 species occur around the world, most of the information I’ve gleaned originates from studies mainly in Costa Rica with some from Guatemala. What I usually realize is one or two sources that, like fruit seeds, are regurgitated throughout the internet, whether based on fact, anecdote, and lots of conflicting scientific information. Yet, I’m fascinated by and try to discern current facts and attempt to be accurate from a plethora of references.


Although I have only a few images of trogons, some photos better or worse than others, I wanted to share some amazing traits of this family. Would you have considered birds could nest in termite nests or wasp nests? Would you ever have thought of a unique toe structure other than the realization of how many toes that birds may or may not have? Did you know that the nutmeg spice originated from a tree or that a trogon could be the seed disperser?


Lots more to uncover and to speculate in Part 2.


DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about these species:


Sal a Pajarear Yucatan; Birds & Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula; A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America; Trogons, Laughing Falcons, and Other Neotropical Birds:A Bird Watcher’s Adventures in Tropical America; A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica; The Birds of Panama A Field Guide; The Minds of Birds, Handbook of Bird Biology, Birds of Peru














Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her monthly column features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and also wildlife beyond the Yucatan.

Contact: [email protected]  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo

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Laurie August 5, 2019 - 1:01 am

Your first photo is a jewel!!! Similar to good art and literature, it has much to discuss! I LOVE it!!! In addition, How lucky that you were in Peru to capture some of the shots!! XxOo

Cherie Pittillo August 5, 2019 - 10:45 am

Laurie, thank you! That species, formerly called Violaceous Trogon, will be heavily featured in Part 2. It is now called “Gartered Trogon.”

bruce krucke August 5, 2019 - 10:22 am

Nice to learn more about trogons. I remember a trogon was the bird we never found on my visit to Merida……..LOL. Great shots!

Cherie Pittillo August 5, 2019 - 10:48 am

Bruce Krucke, thank you. I know we should have found the Collared Trogon and the former Violaceous Trogon, aka Gartered Trogon. But as you saw, I don’t have any images of the Collared Trogon!


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