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Bird in the Spotlight: Elegant Trogon

14 March, 2024

By Alexander Trifunovic

A male Elegant Trogon, one of the most colorful and exotic-looking birds to occur in the United States. Photo by Dominic Sherony, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


The Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans) is a species with a legendary status among birdwatchers, drawing tens of thousands of nature enjoyers and enthusiasts to the famous Cave Creek Canyon of Arizona every year. This species is also of personal interest to me, as my friend Charlie Ayers and I traveled to southern Arizona for our college spring break in March 2022 and embarked on a grueling hike up Madera Canyon in search of trogons. We were about a week too early, with reports flooding in just after we returned home. Elegant Trogons can be found from southeastern Arizona in the United States south through Mexico with a disjunct population in Central America. They occur in a broad range of habitats from humid lowland floodplains to arid thorn forests to high-elevation oak-sycamore canyons. Despite their large range, most of the research and knowledge of this bird comes from the migratory population in Arizona where the species was first described in 1885.

 Cave Creek Canyon. Photo by On^ste82, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Adult male Elegant Trogons are breathtakingly patterned with a black mask and metallic green back, shiny coppery-green tail, a white band across the chest, and a crimson-red belly. Females are similar to males but with muted grayish-brown and subtle pink replacing the male’s vibrant green and red. The word trogon comes from Greek, meaning “gnawer”, and Elegant Trogons possess a chunky, hooked bill with a small tooth-like serration used to pluck fruit and insects from the canopies of trees. They nest in natural or woodpecker-excavated cavities, and both adults share parental duties of brooding and bringing food to their young. Elegant Trogons defend their nest cavities aggressively from other birds and snakes but are susceptible to human disturbance, which can lead them to abandon eggs or young. Current estimates show a stable or potentially increasing population with breeding populations in Arizona likely forming in the last 100 years. Suitable habitat exists north of the trogon’s current range, in the Santa Catalina Mountains, and this species may expand there in the coming decades as the climate warms. Human recreation remains an area of concern in the highly visited canyons of Arizona, and increased awareness of this bird’s sensitivity to disturbance during the breeding season would benefit its conservation.  

A female Elegant Trogon at the world-renowned South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon. Photo by HarmonyonPlanetEarth, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


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