I propose to write a book about the Resplendent Quetzal, a dazzling, legendary bird of the highland forests of Mexico and Central America. Ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures revered this bird, as do citizens across this region today. For the tens of thousands of tourists interested in tropical nature who visit quetzal country each year, this is the bird they most want to see. Dozens of eco-lodges and guiding businesses have sprung up to meet this demand, bringing millions of dollars annually into local economies.
My book will provide the first detailed, accessible, well-illustrated life history of the Resplendent Quetzal -- no such book has been written to date. It will discuss the fascinating role of this bird in Mayan and Aztec religions, its evolutionary history and complex biology, and how the species fits into the increasingly threatened forests that sustain it. It will conclude with an analysis of the bird’s population status in different regions and of how conservation successes in some areas can be replicated and expanded in others.
All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Osa Conservation -- to further forest conservation in Costa Rica.
WHY QUETZALS AND WHY NOW?
Arguably the most beautiful bird in the world, the Resplendent Quetzal is without doubt a rock star among birds. It is hard to describe this quetzal without tripping over superlatives. Loose, shimmering plumage of pales blues, brilliant greens, and deep reds; three-foot long tail plumes trailing behind courting males in flight; small flocks swooping in to feed on fruits high in the canopies of cloud forest trees. Only a handful of other birds on our planet possess such charisma - charisma that has captivated human imaginations throughout history.
Channeling this charisma will be the goal of this book. Quetzal well-being reflects the well-being of the forests that support it, so this magnificent bird provides a valuable lens through which to examine land use in Mexico and Central America.
Why now? In many parts of its range, the Resplendent Quetzal is in trouble. Its highland forests are being cut at an alarming rate -- for lumber, and especially for agriculture. Mexico has lost nearly 80 percent of its quetzals in the past 40 years; Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua likewise struggle to maintain numbers. Only in Costa Rica and Panama (and likely Honduras, although surveys have been limited there) is the species still considered secure, thanks to large areas of protected forest.
CAN THIS A BOOK MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Absolutely. Because Resplendent Quetzals are powerful symbols of forest wellbeing, their story can help to motivate forest protection -- forests that hold some of the highest biodiversity on the planet. If such splendid habitats are to remain connected and viable, and if these quetzals are not to become ghost birds for future generations, we need informed people to champion their cause. My book will help create the necessary enthusiasts and advocates.
No book has value until it is published and reaches a wide audience. Thankfully, I have a publisher eager to join me: Cornell University Press, in partnership with their Costa Rican publishing partner (Zona Tropical Publications), has contracted me to write this book. Cornell has deep experience publishing in North American and European markets, and Zona has an excellent track record with natural history books in Central America. Zona plans to hire experienced wildlife photographers to capture new images for the book, and will publish a Spanish-language edition as well. This will be a dazzling book about a dazzling bird; I am confident it will appeal to a wide audience.
I think I am well positioned to write this book:
1) I have just completed a similar effort on another charismatic bird: the Osprey (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019). Ospreys is an engaging book to read -- well-illustrated and accessibly-written -- that is already into its second printing. This book is a model for what I propose to write about quetzals.
2) For 22 years I was editor of the Birds of North America life history series (https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/home?login), giving me a wealth of writing experience, deep appreciation for the details of bird life, and a solid grasp of the scientific literature -- how to distil complex information into something that non-specialists will want to read.
3) I now spend 3 months each year in the highlands of s. Costa Rica, near some of the best remaining quetzal habitat in the Americas. I base myself at the Las Cruces Research Station, part of the Organization for Tropical Studies. From this perch, I plan to spend the next 2 winters (January-March) researching and writing about the Resplendent Quetzal. To carry out this work effectively, I will need some support.
My goal with this campaign is to raise enough money to make the quetzal story a compelling one. Publishers such as Cornell/Zona provide no financial support for their authors. As a result, I'm looking to raise about $19,000 a year for 2 years.
Expenses can be summarized as follows:
TRAVEL: A) Round-trip airfare from Massachusetts to Costa Rica, plus 6-8 local, incountry flights, x2: $2500; B) guides and car rental in Costa Rica over a 6 month period: $4000; C) One 2 week survey of quetzals and habitat in Guatemala--car, guide, airfare: $3500; D) Incidentals (hotels, taxis, meals when traveling, etc.): $2000. Total: $12,000
ROOM & BOARD: A) At the Las Cruces Research Station, San Vito, Costa Rica -- close to key quetzal breeding grounds: $1950/mo, x 6 months = $11,700. Total: $11,700
EQUIPMENT: A) Upgrade camera lens and binoculars: $1500; B) Gear for camping at field sites near quetzal nests: $1000; C) Incidentals (field clothing, etc.): $1000. Total: $3500
OFFICE: Quiet, dedicated writing space near home in Massachusetts: 12 months @ $200/mo. Total: $2400
PUBLISHING: Surprisingly (to me), Cornell University Press asks authors for financial help ($5K) in offsetting publishing costs. In their defense, this reduces the overall cost of the book, broadening the market. This will be particularly important in Central America, where we hope to encourage robust sales even though incomes are often limited there. In addition, Zona Tropical -- the group that will oversee the graphics, photos, and layout of this book -- would benefit from modest support ($3.5K). Total $8500
Grand Total: $38,100
Because Osa Conservation is acting as my fiscal agent in this fund-raising effort, all contributions are 100% tax-deductible. In addition, all royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Osa Conservation -- promoting their effort to build forest corridors in Costa Rica, one of the last remaining strongholds of the Resplendent Quetzal in Central America. This book is being written for conservation, not for any profit on my part.