Daily Archives: April 19, 2017

Hoatzin Bird

Hoatzin, Amazon River, Peru

As part of the Wildside Nature Tours Amazon River Boat Adventure, we made two separate trips back into Oxbow Lakes off the Amazon to find the Hoatzin Bird. The Hoatzin is one of the oddest birds on earth, and no trip to the Amazon would be complete without a Hoatzin sighting. They are not hard to find, generally, as they are numerous, large (almost turkey size), noisy, and relatively unafraid of humans, but they tend to favor the oxbows, which are not always easily accessible from the main rivers. In some seasons you have to bushwhack to find them. In high water season, when we visited, we could take our skiffs through narrow, twisting channels in the flooded forest and get right out into the oxbows among the water lettuce and giant water lilies. 

In addition to its rather bizarre looks, the Hoatzin is unique among birds in having a digestive system that uses bacterial fermentation…in a special enlarged crop, ahead of the actual stomach…somewhat similar to the way a cow digests its food, and for the same reason. Hoatzins eat mainly leaves (from as many as 50 species of plants), and normal digestive processes would not extract enough nutrients from the tough cellulose matter to sustain life. The fermentation process is also responsible for the unpleasant manure like odor associated with the birds, which gives them their other name: stinkbird. The stink may also be responsible for their continued health as a species in a region where such a large and easyily hunted bird might otherwise be a target. As a final oddity, Hoatzin chicks have two functioning claws on the wings which help them to clamber around in the foliage at a young age to avoid predators. 

As you might expect with a bird this odd, there has been, and continues to be, much debate about where the Hoatzin fits in the scheme of bird life in general…who its closest relations are…where it came from in evolutionary terms, etc. It is so much a mystery that it has inspired only the 4th attempt to completely sequence the genome of a bird, at process that is ongoing at the moment. It is generally agreed, though, that it is an anchient off-shoot of the bird clan, and that it stands pretty much on its own. 

If you see a resemblance to a certain Disney bird character…it is no accident. The bird in question was consciously modeled on the Hoatzin, though the Disney folks worked with a broader palette. 

That is probably more than you wanted to know about the Hoatzin Bird, but it is a fascinating creature. Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program Mode. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro.