Trogons and quetzals are members of the Trogonidae family. Of the 35 species of this family known to exist, at least six species of trogon are found within Tambopata National Reserve and the rainforests that border this protected natural area.
Most trogons inhabit the tropical and subtropical forests of Central and South America; however, trogons are also found as far afield the United States, Cuba, the Philippines, and southern Africa. Trogon species do not embark upon long migrations, although while most members of the Trogonidae family are entirely sedentary, a few have been found to engage in short migrations, mostly from one altitudinal range to another, as they pursue the different fruiting seasons of forest plants. Trogons will feed on fruit, insects and spiders, and have also been known to eat small lizards.
With their short necks, rounded bodies, and long tails, across different species trogons closely resemble each other in form and size. They are medium-sized birds, mostly measuring between 23 and 40 centimeters in length. It is the rich variety of their bright, iridescent plumage which sets different species apart. The legs and feet of trogons are so weak that they are only able to use them for perching. Trogons are unique among the world’s known bird species for possessing heterodactylous toes: the third and fourth digits both point forward, while the first and second digits are backward pointing. When feeding, rather than perching trogons will hover and snatch their prey.
Although outwardly they do appear at all alike, some biologists believe that trogons may be related to owls, and like owls they are able to turn their heads through 180 degrees. Other biologists believe that trogons may be related to parrots, toucans, or nightjars.
While other rainforest animals and birds –such as the extraordinary potoo- adopt camouflage as a means of staying alive in a predator-rich environment, trogons are among the most colorful birds found in the Neotropical ecosystems of the Americas. They are highly sought-after by birdwatching enthusiasts for their great beauty; however, in spite of their relative inactivity and bright plumage, they are rarely seen and are therefore relatively understudied.
In the tropical forests of Tambopata National Reserve, it is possible spot black-tailed trogons (Trogon melanurus), with their yellow bill, emerald-green head and chest (dark gray/black in the female), separated by a white band (in the male only) from their red belly; white-tailed trogons (Trogon chionurus), with their dark blue head, green back (gray in the female), orange-yellow underparts, and white undertail; the collared trogon (Trogon collaris), with its green head, back and breast (brown in the female), and white line separating the breast from red underparts (paler in the female); and the blue-crowned trogon (Trogon curacui), with its blue head and black face (brown in the female), red belly, green back and white-striped tail.
The word “trogon” comes from the Greek word for “nibbling”, and their name refers to trogons’ habit of gnawing holes into tree trunks in order to create their nests. Trogons are territorial and monogamous. A breeding pair will build their nest by burrowing into the wood of a rotting tree trunk, or making a hole in a termite nest. Using their beaks, they are able to excavate spacious cavities accessed via long narrow entrances.