Admired for its vivid parrotlike colors, the Elegant Trogon's plumage is brightened by a metallic iridescence on its back and tail; hence its former name, Coppery-tailed Trogon. This species may be the most adaptable member of the family Trogonidae, living in a wide variety of habitats ranging from tropical lowland forested floodplains and high-elevation riparian woodlands to arid scrublands, woodlands, and temperate upland coniferous forests.
The Elegant Trogon is a permanent resident throughout most of its range in Mexico but is a migrant in the mountain ranges of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, as well as along the lower Rio Grande of south Texas.
Trogon (from the Greek meaning “gnawer”; Gruson 1972) refers to their hooked, dentate bill, used in grasping insects and fruit. Trogons also hover to pick insects or fruit off trees. Their diagnostic song, Ko-ah, Ko-ah, is usually compared to that of the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) or a frog. Their diagnostic, monosyllabic or bisyllabic, call historically has been interpreted in numerous ways (see Sounds: vocalizations, vocal array).
Adult Elegant Trogons, sexually dimorphic in plumage, commonly nest in abandoned woodpecker cavities. The male shares reproductive duties with the female, from sitting on the 3 or 4 white eggs to caring for young.
The woodpecker-like flight ofthis species is generally slow and heavily undulating, but individuals can escape from hawks or other danger with amazing maneuverability and speed. Adults defend their young from snakes, squirrels, and hawks, but human disturbance has caused abandonment of nests, eggs, and young.
Little information is available about many species of the family Trogonidae, especially the Elegant Trogon. Early natural-history accounts of several trogon species in Mexico and Central America did not include the Elegant Trogon. This species was first found in the United States in the Huachuca Mountains of southeastern Arizona in 1885 (Ridgway Ridgway 1887e, Ridgway 1887d). Its nest, however, was not discovered in the U.S. until 54 years later, in Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona (Allen Allen 1944, Allen 1951a). Despite the early attention the species elicited from professional and amateur ornithologists in the United States, no detailed account of its life history existed before Bent (Bent 1940a) and no organized study of the species was conducted before 1977.
By the late 1970s, the Chiricahua, Huachuca, and Santa Rita Mountains of southeastern Arizona had begun attracting large numbers of visitors because of the variety of Neotropical birds that migrate through and breed there. Annually, an estimated 25,000 bird-watchers visit the South Fork of Cave Creek, Chiricahua Mountains, largely to see the Elegant Trogon (R. C. Taylor in Negri 1994)—“the most sought-after bird in Arizona” (Monson 1974). By the mid- to late 1970s, the trogon had become an important socioeconomic factor in the state, prompting concern by private citizens and agencies (including the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service) about disturbance to the species and its habitat. Consequently, studies on the Elegant Trogon conducted in southeastern Arizona from 1977 to 1982 and from 1993 to 1995 focused on abundance and distribution, productivity, nesting, foraging, habitat use, and potential threats (Taylor Taylor 1978d, Taylor 1978b, Taylor 1978c, Taylor 1979f, Taylor 1980a, Taylor 1980b, Taylor 1980c, Taylor 1981b, Taylor 1983d, Taylor 1994c, Hall 1996, Hall and Karubian 1996). These Arizona-based studies represent some of the only nonanecdotal information available for the species. Many aspects of Elegant Trogon life history remain poorly known, including such basic information as nutrition and energetics, metabolism and temperature regulation, timing and duration of molts, and migration patterns and seasonal movements.