The resplendent quetzal plays an important role in various types of Mesoamerican mythology . It is the national bird of Guatemala , and its image is found on the country's flag and coat of arms . It also lends its name to the country's currency, the Guatemalan quetzal (abbreviation GTQ).As a result, the lustrous tail-feathers, which can grow to be a meter long, were donned by Aztec and Mayan rulers in their headdress. However, because the birds were sacred, quetzals were simply captured and set free after their elegant plumage was removed. The penalty for killing the bird was death.