Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
In the United States, the Elegant Trogon breeds in several of Arizona's mountain ranges, including the Atascosas, Chiricahuas, and Huachucas. One of five subspecies, the U.S. population (T. e. canescens) may represent a northward range expansion. In the Santa Rita range, Madera Canyon is a birding hotspot, famous for this colorful species. Rare but regular sightings are made in southwestern New Mexico. The Elegant Trogon is a permanent resident from the Western Sierra Madre range in northwestern Mexico to the southern State of Oaxaca. A population also branches through eastern Mexico as far north as Nuevo Léon. In Central America, this trogon occurs from southeastern Guatemala to northwestern Costa Rica.
The Elegant Trogon's habitat is the most varied of any trogon. It uses tropical lowland forests in floodplains, high-elevation riparian woodlands, arid scrublands, woodlands, and temperate upland coniferous forests, anywhere from sea level to over 2000 m. The Elegant Trogon's preference for drier upland sites has made it associated with the Strickland's Woodpecker in Mexico and, in the United States, the Arizona Woodpecker, the latter another Watch List species. In the U.S., the typical surroundings are in canyons along wooded streams and rivers, with pine and oak trees dominated by Arizona sycamore. Nests are built in cavities previously excavated by woodpeckers, usually the Northern Flicker. Most of the canyons are in Madrean sky islands, which are fairly low mountain ranges isolated from each other by desert grasslands and scrub.
The Elegant Trogon sits quietly on a perch beneath the forest canopy and scans for prey, then sallies forth to grasp insects and fruits with its serrated bill. The diet includes many insects and their larvae: caterpillars, cicadas, katydids, walkingsticks, grasshoppers, and beetles. Fruits are picked from chokecherry, birchleaf buckthorne, red pepper, and wild grape. Small lizards are also consumed.
The Elegant Trogon starts nesting between May and July; pairs take a long time to find a suitable nest cavity. With complex songs and aggressive chases, the male trogon attracts a mate and establishes a large territory, usually a half-mile wide. The male's courtship display includes flicking his colorful tail, puffing his red chest, and pursuing the female while softly cooing. The pair cannot excavate their own nest hole and often re-use nests from previous years, most of which were initially made by woodpeckers. Competition over nesting cavities is fierce, and conflict with woodpeckers, owls, and squirrels is common. The male initially chooses a hole about 25 feet above the ground, but the female appears to make the final nest site decision.
In an unlined nest, the female lays 2-3 nearly round, plain white eggs. After 19 days of incubation by the pair, the pink chicks emerge naked, blind, and helpless. Down develops over the next 12 days, as the parents first feed the chicks insects and then fruits, which the parents soften. The calm and quiet chicks roost in one spot for periods as many as three hours. Fledglings attempt their first flights at about three weeks old and continue to be fed for another three weeks.
Only the northern populations of the Elegant Trogon, those in the US and the northernmost parts of Mexico, migrate. These individuals arrive on the breeding range sometime in April and depart in November, probably for lack of food and cold winter temperatures.