What’s the world’s prettiest bird?

After looking at some bird photos sent by a reader, and admiring the lovely lilac-breasted roller, I got to thinking about the world’s prettiest birds.

I’ve never wavered in my conviction that the world’s prettiest bird is the male of the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), which I’ve had the privilege of seeing several times in the wild. (They live in montane cloud forests of Central America.) This breathtaking bird has iridescent green feathers and a bright crimson breast, combined with a super long, sexually selected tail and a lovely yellow beak. Males even have a fuzzy crest atop their heads.

It’s the national bird of Guatemala and a drawing of the male appears on all their currency (the unit of currency is in fact called the Guatemalan quetzal, worth about eight American cents). The Mayans used the long tail feathers as currency.

Yes, the quetzal has fewer colors than one can see in, say, the roller or the rainbow lorikeet, but sometimes less is more. And that tail—sometimes nearly twice as long as the male body!

Here are some photos of the species, but I’m urging readers to email me a few words about what they consider the prettiest bird and a link to a good picture. (You can name only one species, and please specify the sex if you choose a sexually dimorphic species.) I’ll collect these for a few days and post them on the 27th (Thursday), and maybe I’ll recruit an independent judge to name The World’s Prettiest Bird. Please do not put your entries in the comments below; email them to me. Thanks!

Male quetzals:

And the female—no slouch in the looks department either:

A one-quetzal banknote:



  1. Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I am restricting my choice to birds that I have seen in the wild and my all time favorite is the Wall Creeper seen in the Tatry Mountains of Slovakia


  2. GBJames
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I’m going to Guatemala in April. I hope to see some of these resplendent birds!

  3. Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Good choice! I also vote for the Resplendant Quetzal. I’ve had the pleasure of working with them for long periods of time in Mexico and Costa Rica, to the point where some individuals lost their fear of me and perched a few yards from me while I sat in the branches of their favorite fruiting tree.

    Note that there are northern and southern subspecies. If I may be a quetzal snob, the northern subspecies (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras) is even more beautiful than the southern subspecies (Costa Rica, Panama). It has a bigger crest and a considerably longer tail.

    • Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Come on, Lou–you have to choose another one so I can post it. It can be the Second Most Beautiful Bird.

      • Posted December 23, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        OK,the second best is the Himalayam Monal:

        • Posted December 23, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

          Oops, “Himalayan”

          • Posted December 23, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            I need a few words about why you like that bird, and then I’ll put it in the post. I hadn’t seen that one before; it’s gorgeous!

            • Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

              I love the riot of iridescence on this bird, shining simultaneously in almost every color of the spectrum; it is hard to imagine a greater contrast with the bleak monochrome snowscape of its habitat in winter.

              I’ve only seen these in captivity, but even then it stands out like a torch.

              • Posted December 23, 2018 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

                I saw that bird while hiking in Nepal around 1973, but it was far away in the pine forest around the Thyangboche Monastery. I had no idea it was so shiny.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink


  5. Posted December 23, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink


  6. Posted December 23, 2018 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Birds of Paradise are in a class of their own, but with regard to “ordinary” birds, I would say that the Nicobar Pigeon comes in a close second:

    A wild male peacock with full tail feathers taking flight at dawn in a misty jungle in India is a sight unparalleled, too.

  7. rickflick
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I’d have to think about it a while. I’d be inclined to stick to North American birds for my choice. Simply because they are close and accessible.

  8. Ralph
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the peacock loses out from familiarity. If it were an exotic bird that we came across for the first time, I think it would win hands down.

    • Adam M.
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      That is an amazing image. (I can’t help but wonder if it was enhanced.) I love how the tail fills the whole field of view, almost as if the bird is warping all space, and perhaps time as well…

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      There’s a muster of peacocks that roams wild in my old Miami neighborhood. Many a morning, I’d peek out my front window by dawns’s first light to see them pecking about in the front yard.

  9. Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Cardinal. Bluebirds come in second place. No other birds come close to perfection of that.
    Golden hawks come close. Beautiful birds.

    • Posted December 23, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      People need to email me a picture and a few words! Is that too much to ask?

  10. Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Most beautiful bird? I am glad Honey can’t read this! I would also give a nod to that Mandarin Duck in Central Park.

  11. Bruce Lyon
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Just to be an ornithological pedant, the long part of the quetzal’s ‘tail’ is not really the tail proper but are super long upper tail coverts(which hide the normal sized tail). I mention this only because I think it is interesting, not because I really care about whether it is a true tail.

    • Diane G
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for that, glad to know it. Looking back at the pics I can see it now.

  12. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    My chosen birdie: emailed to the Prof.

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink


  13. anthonyherbert2014
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I do not know about the prettiest bird as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In my opinion the most handsome bird is the Black Shouldered Kite, just look at those red eyes.


    Seasons greetings from Anthony Herbert.

  14. Marina
    Posted December 25, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Rainbow bird, the magic of colours

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