Perhaps no other bird in the US regularly inspires more myth, legend, travel plans, and oohs & aahs, than the Elegant Trogon. Trogon expert, Rick Taylor, explains it well: “Many American birders regard the Elegant Trogon as the most beautiful bird north of the international boundary. Almost a foot-long with a green back and scarlet red breast, the multihued male trogon exhibits a yellow bill, an orange eye-ring, immaculate white breast band, dove gray wings, and a black-and-white laddered undertail.” With a metallic iridescence on its back and tail, the “Coppery-tailed Trogon” is a great looking and sounding bird. During the summer breeding season, you can often hear the distinctive and repetitive barking calls of male trogons in select canyon forests of oak and sycamore in most of the Sky Island mountain ranges of Southeast Arizona. These calls are the easiest way to find this large tropical bird that is well camouflaged and surprisingly difficult to see when not moving.
Elegant Trogon is a mostly Mexican species, but by the late 1970s, Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains had become ground-zero for birders seeking this so-called “most sought-after bird in Arizona.” The species is omnivorous and has a hooked bill that makes it easier to grasp large insects and fruit. Elegant Trogons are secondary cavity nesters and rely on Northern Flickers or Acorn Woodpeckers to excavate the holes they use.
Thanks to annual surveys co-led by Tucson Audubon, we now know that Elegant Trogons occupy the Atascosa, Santa Rita, Huachuca, Chiricahua, and Patagonia Mountains and their population is increasing. In 2020, 201 trogons were detected during surveys, and more are spending the winter in the US. Elegant Trogons have benefited Southeast Arizona and brought joy to legions of birders for years—give back by helping us monitor this wonderful species on a survey in late May. Learn more and sign up at aziba.org.