General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Mar 2019/13 Lizard
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Professor Elizabeth Benson

Question for March 2013

Did the Aztecs keep/breed exotic birds like the quetzal for their feathers (to avoid having to travel to the rainforests for them)? Asked by Cheam School. Chosen and answered by Professor Elizabeth Benson.

‘The ruler’s animals’: Florentine Codex, book 8
‘The ruler’s animals’: Florentine Codex, book 8 (Click on image to enlarge)

Bernal Diaz tells us that Moctezuma had an aviary with many kinds of birds, including the quetzal. I don’t think that quetzals would have lived very long in such a setting, for they like and need a very special environment. That kind of environment is now being destroyed, so there are not many quetzals left. In Aztec times, the feathers would have been collected by the people who lived in that environment and sent away to the Aztec. Bernal Diaz also tells us that the feathers were plucked at a certain time, when it was good to pluck them, and the bird didn’t die; the feathers grew again.

Editor’s Note: The Mexican scholar Carmen Aguilera reports references to the fact that the death penalty could be imposed on anyone found to have killed a quetzal in Aztec times...

Image from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence), scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994.

‘Did they take feathers equally from male and female quetzal birds? ‘

Professor Elizabeth Benson has answered just this one question

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