From Emerald Wings to Crimson Breasts: The Kaleidoscopic Plumage of the Cuban Trogon

When it comes to spectacular tropical birds, few can match the brilliance of the Cuban trogon. Found mainly on the Caribbean island of Cuba, this avian wonder captivates observers with its iridescent feathers, distinctive tail, acrobatic displays, and melodious song.

The Cuban trogon’s (Priotelus temnurus) charismatic appearance begins with its colorful plumage. Males sport a deep crimson head, neck and upper breast that transforms into a shimmering emerald green on the back, wings and tail. Females lack the males’ red head but share the iridescent emerald green feathers and long color-splashed tail.

But what truly sets the Cuban trogon apart is its spectacular tail, which can measure up to 16 inches long. The outer feathers splay out from the base, forming a fantail shape unlike any other bird in the Caribbean. The tail consists of elongated feathers in striking bands of black, turquoise, and scarlet – creating a stunning flash of color when the bird suddenly fans its tail open.

During courtship displays, the male Cuban trogon uses its long, colorful tail to mesmerizing effect. Perched in the forest canopy, the male suddenly spreads his emerald wings and fans his extravagant tail, revealing the hidden bands of scarlet and turquoise.

He then begins making his melodic, woodwind-like song – a series of descending notes that echoes through the trees. If successful, a nearby female will respond, and mating will soon follow.

Once pairs are established, both male and female tend carefully to the building of the nest and feeding of young. The deep nest cups are fashioned out of tree bark and lined with grasses, and located high in tree forks for protection.

The female lays two small blue-green eggs that both parents take turns incubating. Then for several weeks, the parents fiercely defend their young nestlings, catching insects and feeding them regurgitated meals up to 50 times per day.

Along with their spectacular appearance, Cuban trogons also display remarkable acrobatic skills. When hunting for insects and fruit in the forest canopy, these birds suddenly launch themselves skyward, somersaulting and spiraling upward – collecting prey while hovering or snatching it from the air.

When threatened, they sometimes display a behavior called “sky dancing” – flying high in the air and tumbling end over end before suddenly dropping back down into the treetops.

From their iridescent emerald plumage, fantastical multicolored tails and complex melodious songs, to their aerial acrobatics and devoted parenting, Cuban trogons embody the splendor of tropical avian life. Their very name – derived from the Greek word trochilos, meaning “running nimbly” – hints at the agility, grace and vigor that underlie their spectacular appearance. Rare indeed is the bird capable of matching the magnificence of the Cuban trogon – an avian treasure found shining bright in the forests of an island paradise.

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