With its metallic green plumage, gray chest, red belly and long blue tail marked with white, the Hispaniolan trogon is unlike any other bird of this island. In the Caribbean, it has only one close relative, the tocororo or Cuban trogon (Priotelus temnurus). Both trogons belong to the same family (Trogonidae) of the famous resplendent quetzal of Mexico and Mesoamerica, a sacred bird for the Maya and Aztecs. The Hispaniolan trogon’s beauty and nostalgic voice have inspired emotional poems and writings. These include a poignant poem by de Peña y Reynoso contrasting the value of the trogon’s freedom, which chooses to live in remote forests, against the docility of the mockingbird, which easily adapts to populated areas. With great emotion, Lefèbvre narrates his failed attempts to raise a trogon in captivity, concluding: “A bird that flees so far from us, and whose happiness has been set by nature in the freedom and silence of lonesomeness, does not seem born for slavery.” The Hispaniolan trogon has taken on several common names. In Haiti, where it is the national bird, it is called “Kanson Wouj” (red pants) for its crimson belly.
In the Dominican Republic, names include, piragua, trogon and papagayo. However, in Spanish, papagayo usually refers to macaws and parrots, which is misleading, since these birds are not closely related. One observer even traced the use of the name papagayo, concluding it was an invention of foreign writers, while documenting other names such as tocoroi, tocoloro, or tocororo (like the Cuban trogon, likely an imitation of its call), as well as piragua.
The Hispaniolan trogon inhabits mid to high elevations (380–3,000 meters), especially in humid forests and pinelands. It feeds mainly on fruits and insects, but also other invertebrates and even small lizards. One of its favorite fruits is the parrot tree (Brunellia comocladifolia), a keystone species in wet forests. The trogon often perches quietly on a branch, in its unique posture: its head lowered between shoulders, its feet covered by the belly feathers and its tail pointed straight down. Trogons are often seen in pairs, calling out to each other through the forest. They repeat their iconic, toca-loro; coc, ca-rao; or cock-craow, call many times, especially early in the morning, and occasionally throughout the day. Their repertoire also includes cooing and whimpering sounds.
"Farewell, palm trees of emerald and gold; Upright and melancholic pines, Where the singing trogon perches, Where the wood pigeon nests and coos." José Joaquín Pérez
"Why do you always hide Inside the shady jungle Giving the air your voice Of infinite sweetness?" Manuel de Jesús de Peña y Reynoso
Although they may call often, it can be difficult to locate them by sound, because they seem to be ventriloquial. Currently, the IUCN Red List considers the Hispaniolan trogon as near threatened due to the loss of the forests it inhabits. It is classified as vulnerable to extinction on the Dominican Republic’s Red List. It nests in old hollow trees in mature forests or in abandoned Hispaniolan Woodpecker nests. As forests are cleared and larger trees are cut, nesting cavities become scarce, forcing them to compete with woodpeckers, parrots and parakeets for nest sites. In order to increase their reproductive success, Dominican and Cuban researchers have experimented with artificial nests. These efforts have produced good results, although occasionally Hispaniolan Woodpeckers claimed some of the artificial nests for themselves. If they could speak, they might say they are entitled to them, since they, too, are beautiful Hispaniolan endemic birds.