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Elegant Trogon

Trogon elegans ORDER: TROGONIFORMES FAMILY: TROGONIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Many kinds of trogons live in tropical forests, but only one species regularly occurs in North America. Easily recognized by their metallic-green and rose-red colors, as well as their unusual stout-bodied, square-tailed profile, Elegant Trogons are a prized sighting for birders who visit southeastern Arizona. Early on spring mornings, their repetitive and resonating calls carry through the sycamore and oak forests that line canyon streams. Elegant Trogons are reliant upon woodpeckers to excavate holes in trees where they place their nests.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
11 in
28 cm
Weight
2.1–2.8 oz
60–78.6 g
Relative Size
Larger and thicker-bodied than American Robin; about the size of a Belted Kingfisher, with a much longer tail.

Cool Facts

  • Elegant Trogons are what’s called a “secondary cavity nester”—they put their nests in holes in trees, as woodpeckers do. But they don’t have the ability to make these holes themselves, so they are largely dependent on woodpeckers to excavate nest holes for them. Once the woodpecker has moved on, trogons (among many other secondary cavity nesting species) can move in. Elegant Trogons often use holes that were excavated by Northern Flickers or Acorn Woodpeckers.
  • Trogon is a Greek word meaning "gnawer," which refers to its insectivore diet and hooked bill.
  • Elegant Trogons were first found in the Huachuca Mountains of Arizona in 1885. Half a century later, in 1939, a nest was discovered in Madera Canyon of the Santa Rita Mountains, and they have since been found in the Atascosas and Chiricahuas Mountains. Although there seems to be suitable habitat in several other mountain ranges, it’s likely that this species has not yet had the chance to disperse there.
  • Trogons tend to nest in riparian vegetation, sometimes close to human activity. Trogon nests are regularly found near service trails, campgrounds, and picnic grounds, so if you go camping in the mountains of Arizona you might find you have a trogon nesting in your campsite.

Habitat


Forest

In Arizona, Elegant Trogons are mostly found in forested mountain canyons, particularly among sycamores, pines, and oaks. They can also be found in juniper habitats and where cottonwood-oak, Douglas-fir, and mesquite cover is limited. Throughout its range, the Elegant Trogon lives in the widest variety of habitats of any trogon, ranging from sea level to about 6,200 feet in Guatemala. Trogons are found in four mountain ranges in Arizona, the Atascosas, the Santa Ritas, the Huachuchas, and the Chiricahuas. Within those mountains, trogons select canyons with sycamore trees in the riparian area, and pines and oaks in the watersheds. Nests of trogons are mainly found in sycamores, but can also occur in oaks.

Food


Insects

Elegant Trogons are omnivorous, eating mainly insects and fruit. They eat a wide variety of insects, in particular grasshoppers and caterpillars, particularly in the breeding season. Other foods include cherries, grapes, figs, chokecherry, and buckthorn. Compared to the diet of birds that frequent the upper canopy, the Elegant Trogon's diet contains a large proportion of animal matter. Trogons, especially males, forage in oak trees and fruit-bearing plants as well as dead or dying trees. Both parents deliver insects such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies, leafhoppers, dragonflies, bees, and wasps to their young.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–4 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
1.1–1.2 in
2.7–3.1 cm
Egg Width
0.9–1.2 in
2.2–3.1 cm
Incubation Period
17–21 days
Nestling Period
34–40 days
Egg Description
Faint bluish white to dull white.
Condition at Hatching
Naked, pink, and with their eyes closed.
Nest Description

The nests contain very little material, and eggs simply lie on the floor of the cavity.

Nest Placement

Cavity

Elegant Trogons nest along streams in holes in either live or dead trees. They can’t excavate these cavities themselves, so they depend on holes that woodpeckers (often Northern Flickers or Acorn Woodpeckers) have made. Some nests are reused from year to year. Large sycamores can be used in consecutive years and generally more than one-fourth of nests are reused at some point.

Behavior


Flycatching

Elegant Trogons forage in the lower forest canopy (around 25 feet off the ground), where they sit motionless and scan neighboring branches, leaves, and trunks with almost imperceptible movements of their heads. When they spot something on a limb or in the air, they burst into flight to catch it by surprise. Males and females call to each other during foraging, courtship, incubation, and also while feeding nestlings. When advertising, males call loudly from a chosen perch, normally near the nest cavity. A displaying male approaches a female and begins flicking his tail and puffing out his crimson chest feathers. He follows the female from perch to perch while giving a low call. Males engage in threat displays where they puff out their breast and snap their bills, often during fights with other males. Little is known about the trogon mating system. They are monogamous and pairs stay together for at least a month after their young fledge. Female trogons must defend offspring from species such as Cooper's Hawks, Mexican Jays, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers. Trogon tend to live in areas that are also inhabited by Arizona Woodpecker, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

There is little information on Elegant Trogon population trends. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 200,000, with 6% spending some part of the year in the U.S. and 79% living in Mexico. The species rates a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Elegant Trogon is on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. It is probable that Elegant Trogons will always be rare in southeastern Arizona. Their tendency to nest near human activity raises the question of how humans affect nest success, but studies so far have shown them to be relatively tolerant of this. Trogons are more likely to be affected by the destruction of riparian vegetation in the Southwest, which could reduce suitable nesting locations. A related issue is the drawdown of water tables in the region, which could harm the sycamore trees and riparian forests that trogons depend on.

Credits

Range Map Help

Elegant Trogon Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident to short-distance migrant. Elegant Trogons are permanent residents throughout a majority of their range, but in Arizona most of them are migrants.

Find This Bird

Elegant Trogons are one of the most sought-after birds by bird watchers in the U.S., They breed regularly in only four mountain ranges in Arizona: the Atascosas, Chiricahuas, Huachucas, and Santa Ritas. They also are rarely reported in the southwestern mountains of New Mexico. Notwithstanding their restricted range, you should be able to find trogons if you look in the correct habitat (canyon forests of oak and sycamore) at the right time of year. Some trogons are present all year, but most arrive in April and depart in November. Listen for Elegant Trogons’ repetitive, resonant call notes to help narrow in on them. Males call most frequently in the early morning of April to May and again in late June to July. They are most easily seen when they erupt into flight after a prey item. At other times they tend to sit motionless, although typically in the upper understory or lower canopy, where they can still be fairly easy to spot if you look carefully.

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