National Geographic : 1969 Jan
Blowgun with clay pellets, weapon of for est hunters, sometimes fells quetzals despite Guatemala's protective laws. A poacher offered the author a quetzal skin for $2. back to the treetops and his bemused female. One evening, just as we finished a meal of leathery beefsteak, tortillas, and beans, the earth began swaying violently. Earthquakes are common in this volcanic belt, and this one lasted for a minute and a half. Then a heavy thunderstorm began. We spent a gloomy night pondering what these elemental forces could do to a fragile, rotted nesting tree. At dawn we bounced apprehensively up to the canyon in the jeep-and sighed with re lief. There sat the Organ Grinder, safe in his snag, plumes waving in the breeze. Chicks' Secure World Ends Abruptly The rainy season soon arrived, bringing daily deluges. The Organ Grinders had chicks now, and the adults provided a two-bird shut tle service bringing food-grubs, spiders, ter mites, caterpillars, and moths. On one of our infrequent sunny mornings, we sat munching sandwiches and watching the spectacular Organ Grinders. Suddenly, 148 Symbol of liberty, the grace ful quetzal won its honored place as Guatemala's national bird because of the early and erroneous-notion that it could not live in captivity. The bird also gave its name to the country's currency; one quetzal equals one U. S. dol lar. Collectors value this rare silver coin at $400. To protect the species, au thor Bowes preaches conser vation to rural schoolchildren, illustrating her talk with a stuffed quetzal held by teacher Rojelio de Le6n. "We can help preserve the quetzal," she tells them,"by not cutting down his forest home or hurting him in any way." On a National Geo graphic map, she points out the bird's range. astonished and horrified, we saw the top half of the nest tree topple! There had been no re cent rain, wind, lightning, or quake. Earlier soaking rains had apparently made the rotted tree top-heavy. Nest and chicks dropped into the canyon. Manuel pawed through debris, found first one nestling, then the other. They were alive. He cradled them in his strong hands, breathing warmth over them (preceding page). The larg er had a cut across its backbone; the smaller showed signs of hemorrhage behind its eye. In a desperate effort, we hollowed out a section of trunk, grafted the new home atop the stub of the nesting tree, and installed the chicks. But the Organ Grinders merely called plaintively from the forest's edge. The adults would not enter the strange new abode. So I had to assume the maternal functions, feeding the baby birds with forceps. Little boys from a nearby village came running with worms and insects. Women brought corn meal and avocados.