No one skips leg day quite like the red-naped trogon


Bec Crew


Bec Crew

Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
By Bec Crew 27 October 2020
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“All looks, no leg muscles,” is what a self-deprecating red-naped trogon might put on its dating app profile.

BECAUSE WHILE you can’t argue with those beautiful colours (some might say the bright blue face is a bit much), you’re looking at the bird with the lowest ratio of leg muscle to body weight in the world.

The red-naped trogon shares this unusual trait with the rest of the trogon family (Trogonidae), which includes quetzals – again, stunningly beautiful birds, puny legs. Because of this odd trait, trogons and quetzals aren’t really capable of walking. They just kind of shuffle, if anything, along a branch.

When they’re not flying or hovering, trogons are literally just sitting there. In fact, biologists have noted their tendency for inactivity and plump little bodies, which clashes somewhat with their otherwise impressive beauty.

As leading 19th century French naturalist, Georges Cuvier, once lamented, “a very short neck, feet disproportioned to their figure … injure the harmony of their form.” You don’t see that kind of shade in scientific texts anymore.

Red-naped trogons were first recorded in 1822 by none other than Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore. Today, their range is restricted to a handful of countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. They’re classified as ‘near threatened’ due to logging.

That sedentary behaviour, encouraged by their tiny legs, could be a defence mechanism. While the male red-naped trogons spot that bright red colouring on their chest and under their tail, their backs are much more subdued:

(Image credit: Kai Soon Chan/YouTube)

Similar to owls, trogons can turn their heads a full 180 degrees. This means the red-necked trogon can turn its dull-coloured back towards anything it doesn’t want to draw attention from, while also keeping a careful eye on it.

You can see it in action below, (or inaction, as it were):

We’ve been picking on the red-naped trogon a bit here, but it really is a charming, wonderful bird. It’s got some real banded broadbill vibes, which is to say, strange, fantastic, and unintentionally comical.

You can see a male and a female in the wild in this very peaceful footage: