Birds and Mayan Culture

Several species of fauna were worshiped by the ancient Mayas. Birds, mammals and reptiles were represented in all kind of artistic expressions.

The main Bird Deity is a supernatural being with a huge “over lip” and a specific type of bird wing, known as Snake Wing, showing the profile of a snake head represented in its shoulder.


The Snake Wing is also associated with other bird species, clearly identified as Macaws, Long-necked waterfowls, Owls and hummingbirds. Bird species that were most frequently represented by the Mayans in their ceramic, sculptures and paintings were parakeets and parrots (family Psittacidae) Hummingbirds (family Trochilidae) Herons (Order Ciconiiformes) Eagles, Hawks and Vultures (Order Falconiformes) Owls (Order Strigiformes) Turkeys (Order Gallifromes) and Hummingbirds (Order Apodiformes).


The Resplendent Quetzal was highly valued by the Ancient Maya and Aztec. Since Don Pedro de Alvarado was accompanied from Mexico to Guatemala by Indians who spoke Nahuatl, many words used today in Guatemala derived from this language, the term Quetzal comes from the Nahuatl “quetzalli”. For the Maya, the Quetzal was called "Kuk".


The importance of the Resplendent Quetzal for Guatemalans, is not limited to having a beautiful bird as a national symbol. Actually the selection of this national symbol is closely linked to the local culture. Throughout history, from the Ancient Maya to this day this bird has played a fundamental role in society.


There are many artistic depictions of the Ancient Maya where they show the importance of quetzal images and feathers. Quetzal feathers were considered valuable because they were rare and difficult to obtain, as they only came from cloud forests. These kinds of forest are only located in mountains and volcanoes top in the Highlands and Verapaz regions. The headdresses were used by rulers or priests, who occupied the upper echelons.

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