The Quetzal Feather

Story and Photo by Sean Roberts

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — When he was a boy, Esteban Mendez Vargas would go to work with his father, a research assistant in the cloud forest. They observed the birds. Mendez quickly fell in love with nature.

“He kept saying he wanted a Quetzal feather,” said Mendez, a self-employed naturalist guide at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. “When I graduated as a tour guide I told myself if I ever found one, I’d give it to him.”

Years later, while leading a bird tour, the dream came true.

Mendez said he was watching a resplendent quetzal sitting on a branch. A wild turkey crashed into the tree and scared the quetzal, which lost a long tail feather upon takeoff. Mendez watched the blue feather flitter to the ground.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for,” Mendez said.

He looked up and the group was in the forbidden woods, searching for the feather. “You can’t be in there!” Mendez shouted. He was panicked; they would take his feather.


Esteban Mendez Vargas guiding in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.


“I see rangers coming!” he yelled at the tourists.

Mendez convinced them to get back on the path. Later, alone, he found the feather on the forest floor. Now the feather is framed in his father’s house. A tribute, if you will, for making Mendez the kind of man he is today.

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