All I wanted for my birthday was a Resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno).
The excitement this bird generates can’t be overstated. It inspires much grand hyperbole, often described as “the most beautiful bird in the world”. It is, technically, in the trogon family, a good-looking bunch of birds overall. Only one of them, though, has the panache, the fan club, the divine reputation, or even the currency of the emerald and scarlet Pharomachrus. It’s a highly coveted catch for Those Who Wear Binoculars, such as myself. But in all the years of tropical birding, I’d never encountered a quetzal in the flesh. Just a lot of trogons.
Back in November, Ant Man asked me what I wanted for my birthday (I was born in March but he likes to plan ahead) and I asked for a quetzal. We considered a short trip to Costa Rica or maybe the Panama highlands. I conjured up a blissful vision of us standing on the slope of some cloud forest mountain, watching a quetzal’s long tail banners flutter in the breeze.
But then, as it happened, this and that and so forth and so on. Schedules maxed out with conferences and to-dos. There was a joyful bar mitzvah, and sadly, a funeral.
Yesterday was my birthday. I found myself standing on the suburban soil of the North American prairie, watching bluejays. Ant Man quietly gave me a bunch of flowers.
On the way out I passed the shallow end, and a tattooed man stood up in the water. There on his back was a quetzal, in the flesh. Literally. It spread across his scapula, its long tail draped artistically down his spine with tips curved upward to encircle his kidney. The man raised an arm to slick back his hair, and the skin of his shoulder rippled emerald and scarlet.
It was the most beautiful bird in the world.