The Ward’s trogon (Harpactes wardi) belongs to the family of trogons and quetzals, Trogonidae in the order Trogoniformes. These species of trogons are distributed in Northeast India (Arunachal Pradesh), Bhutan, Northeast Myanmar, China (West Yunnan province) and Vietnam (Tonkin region). The Ward’s trogon is a sparsely distributed species and it has a moderately small population which is under steady decline.
Rolling clouds, pretty blooms, and dense subtropical evergreen forests, all conspire to hide Bhutan’s precious, and in some cases increasingly rare assemblage of exotic birds. Amongst the oak trees, or at altitudes of up to 10,400 ft, is where you may, if the’ twitching’ gods are kind; sight the lesser spotted, montane dwelling ‘Ward’s Trogon’. Not much is known about the so elusive their almost illusory Ward’s trogon, but if you do decide to trek down to the moist broadleaf forest today, be prepared to keep those eyes peeled, and the hammering of your heart to a dull roar, lest it give your presence and ‘TICK’ away.
Tip of the day, don’t forget to look down as well as up, as trogons are known for nesting in the trunks of rotting trees. Though most of its prey is taken during aerial sallies, the Ward’s trogon is also an expert forager, and you can spot them probing through the moss and undergrowth in search of a meal. Fruit, smooth skinned caterpillars, and the occasional small frog are the order of the day, but be warned, the Ward’s trogon also has a taste for noxious little critters, which are thought to account for the unusually rancid smell of its excrement.
The male of the species, as per usual in the avian kingdom, is far more aesthetically pleasing than the female. From top to tail he measures between 35 to 38 cm and weighs in at around 115 grams. A fine looking fellow, he sports a salmon pink beak, and his orbital ring is a debonair monocle of ice blue. His crown, occiput, nape and back, are a ripe mulberry. His throat, breast, and belly, transition beautifully from a slate overlaid plum, to a wash of coral, and his trinity of tail feathers are a cool pastel pink.
Breeding season is between March and early May, and all signs point to the Ward’s trogon being monogamous and mating for life. The Ward’s trogons general disposition is one of quiet contemplation, but during mating season, you will hear a tommy gun rapid sequence of amour filled kwooooo notes. The trogons courting display is not often seen, and those that study the Ward’s trogon in detail, have noted a behaviour of raising the tail to expose their luminous underbellies. However, others say this is no indication the Ward’s trogon is in the mood for love, and the shaking and raising of a trogon tail-feather, is in fact a combative gesture designed to see off other males.
Unfortunately, the Ward’s trogon, due to habitat loss and degradation, have for some time had a status of ‘Near Threatened. Happily, Bhutan’s government agencies, alongside wildlife scientists and eco-tourists from around the world, have begun their efforts to conserve, and preserve the Ward’s trogon and its natural habitat.
Did You Know: The Ward’s’ trogon is known for implementing the practice of ‘Hover-Gleaning’. This is a cunning feeding method that allows the Ward’s trogon to pause while in flight, with no loss of control, enabling them to pluck a winged critter from mid-air. The Ward’s trogons feet really aren’t fit for purpose. Comparative to their body mass, a Ward’s trogons feet are far to tiny and weak to be of much use. This means the Ward’s trogon is unable to circumvolve its perch without using its wings, which in turn has brought about a rather distinct adaptation. While most birds have one toe pointing back and three pointing forward on each foot, Trogons have their first and second toes, rather than the usual first and fourth, directed backwards, enabling them to hold fast to the sides of trees like a woodpecker. The Ward’s trogon, is from the same family of birds as the ‘Resplendent Quetzal’, a bird considered sacred by the Mayans and Aztecs. These great and ancient civilisations, considered the feathers of the ‘Resplendent Quetzal’ talismans of sorts, often worn by royalty to signal their wealth, and by priests during rituals and ceremonies. Interestingly, “Quetzal” in ancient Mayan literally translates as ‘tail feather’, present day, Quetzal is the name of Guatemala’s currency.