The Elegant Trogon isn’t your typical backyard bird. You can’t see one whenever you’d like. They won’t come to your Wisconsin birdfeeder, no matter what. You will have to travel to see them. They live in remote areas far from people, but they don’t seem to fear people. Far southeastern Arizona is the only place you’re likely to find one in the United States.
The Elegant Trogon is special. He has a square-tip tail and round-tip wings. He has a red belly and a blue-green back. His wingspan is 16 inches. Black and white, brown and gray feathers round out his color palette with a bright red eye ring for accent. Maybe that’s why people travel so far to see him…he looks so strange.
He's a prize for birders. Compare him to: ‘Box Seats’, ‘A-Hole-in-One’ or ‘Babe Ruth’s rookie card’ to understand the level of mystique this bird holds.
Colleen and Stein Simonsen (pronounced: ‘Stain’ in Norwegian) went to South America to see one last year. I met them on the Carrie Nation Trail in Madera Canyon, Arizona. They’re from Idaho, now living part-time in Arizona. They wanted to see an Elegant Trogon here in North America too. We hiked together up and down the mountain trails and stood quietly for hours, our backs to each other, so we could scan the trees in 360 degrees. Waiting for a trogon to show up takes patience, but our patience paid off.
About mid-April Elegant Trogons start moving up into Southern Arizona. They’re looking for nesting sites along mountain slopes with Sycamore trees, one of their favorite nesting trees. Birders flock (no pun intended) to these areas to search for the Elegant Trogon. Bandoliered with binoculars and all lengths of lens, they’re in hopes of seeing or maybe just hearing an Elegant Trogon.
The word was out on this year’s Elegant Trogon sightings in Madera Canyon and birders were anxious to be the next lucky person. But Colleen, Stein and I were next! We found this one where one had been spotted before…about a mile up, along a mountain snowmelt stream. Perched about thirty-feet over my head, his red belly was fully exposed. I didn’t have the birder credentials to be this fortunate, but I gladly accepted this prize.
The Elegant Trogon is not without shortcomings though. For a bird named Elegant, he has a less than elegant voice. His voice has been rightly compared to a hoarse barking dog. I might add a dog crossed with an oinking pig. Few would say his call is elegant. It’s good he calls out, though, because that’s how you find him. His barks give him away in the dense cover of trees. But for what he lacks in song, he more than makes up in elegant plumage.