Slaty-tailed Trogon (Trogon massena): Barry Kent MacKay

When I paint a bird, I seek to satisfy only one person, who, although he didn’t die or move away, can never see it. That person is the boy I used to be, besotted with birds, burning with a desire to travel, and to be an artist in the tradition of the illustrators of the books I so cherished, and to be able to paint the exotic birds I trusted I would one day see. I think he would have liked this one, even though it took me half a century before I felt I was practiced enough to attempt the painting.

The first trogon I ever saw was a Slaty-tailed Trogon (Trogon massena), on June 9, 1971, on my first day at a very rural farm in Alajuela Province, Costa Rica. The farm grew some sort of medicinal plant that required forest shade, and so I was amid tall trees, with the father’s son who spoke no English, and me speaking no Spanish. He had been assigned to keep an eye on me but as a bonus he turned out to have extremely sharp eyes and a knack for finding birds. I was amazed how, even with its bright red belly, the bird seemed to blend into the overhead foliage. On my own I would probably have missed it, not yet having adjusted to my new and ever so unfamiliar surroundings.

This species favors the tropical lowland forests from southeastern Mexico, south as far as northern South America, reaching as far as northwestern Ecuador.  The nest, which I never saw, is excavated by both sexes in an occupied arboreal termite nest or perhaps a rotting tree trunk, from about three to fifteen meters above the ground.  As is generally true of trogons they are phlegmatic, sitting motionless for long periods of time, as if bored or lazy, although they certainly can fly well when they decide to do so.  They eat fruit and large insects, and probably the odd small lizard. Females are duller than the males.

This painting is 22.5 by 13.75 inches, and is painted on the back of a kitchen cupboard door made of compressed wood fiber.  When the kitchen was recently renovated I was seeing breaks in supply chains for art supplies, and when I saw all the kitchen cupboard doors removed and ready to be taken to landfill, I decided to save those I could use to paint on.  They’re heavy and solid but fortunately the birch panels and compressed hardboard I normally use for oil paintings are returning to the art store.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

Purchase, print, product info:

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

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