The strange Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) isn´t be as pretty as toucans, tanagers, and macaws. It wins the prize for the oddest bird in the Amazon. Nearly as large as a turkey, the Hoatzin spends its time loafing around oxbow lakes in the Amazon rainforest. It sits in bushes and small trees that grow at the water’s edge and grunts. It nips off leaves from the surrounding vegetation. They don’t pay much attention to people. When scared, they clumsily flap their way to a nearby branch.
This strange bird only occurs in the Amazon jungle and has no close relatives. Indeed, its heritage is a constant subject of debate among ornithologists. It has been placed with the cuckoos, turkey-like birds. It was even considered to be some type of ancient prehistoric bird. Studies have indicated that the Hoatzin is not a living fossil. It belongs to an old lineage of birds that may have no close relatives. One recent study of Hoatzin fossils showed that it may even have its origin in Africa and could have reached South America by floating across the Atlantic Ocean on clumps of vegetation!
Whatever the truth may be about its evolutionary history, all guests of the Rainforest Expeditions eco-lodges stand a great chance of seeing one.
How to identify a Hoatzin:
To learn to identify hoatzins download our illustrated plate and our photo identification guide to Amazon Rainforest Animals.
Here are some interesting facts about the Hoatzin:
- Indigenous people called it a “pheasant” or something like that.
- An herbivore: The Hoatzin is one of the only primarily herbivorous birds on the globe. It rarely takes insect prey and spends most of its time picking out and eating succulent leaves from lakeside vegetation. Like cows, the Hoatzin uses bacteria to help digest the plant matter it consumes. It uses an enlarged crop for this purpose.
- Poor flyer: Hoatzins rarely fly. They are so reluctant to take to the air because they can barely fly. Most birds have strong breast muscles to flap their wings. Hoatzins have small breast muscles.
- Stinkbird: This is another commonly used name for the Hoatzin in many parts of its range. It is a reflection of their natural “eau de parfum”. Hoatzins don’t have a particularly pleasant odor. After all, they are fermenting leaves.
- Born with clawed wings!: People believed Hoatzins were prehistoric because of the claws that young birds sport on their wings. This is an adaptation to keep them from falling into the water as they clamber around lakeside vegetation.
How to plan your Amazon travel to see hoatzin and other Amazon wildlife:
- Visit an oxbow lake in the Amazon jungle: Since Hoatzins only occur around oxbow lakes, you have to visit one of these calm bodies of water to see this strange bird species. We see them on just about every trip to the oxbow lakes.To know one when you see one, download our Amazon Rainforest Animals identification guide, including the illustrated plate of Amazon birds.
- Listen for the odd grunting noises they make: Despite their large size, Hoatzins can be surprisingly inconspicuous. They usually give themselves away with unique “shushing” or grunting noises. Listen for this distinct sound and watch for this odd bird as it clumsily moves through the bushy, lakeside vegetation.
- Sign up for a Free Trial of the Wired Amazon: even if Amazon Travel is not in your short-term plans you can connect with Amazon wildlife. Sign-up for your free trial of the Wired Amazon and help us identify the Amazon wildlife that is on the photos taken by our 20 square kilometer grid of 78 cameras snapping away in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
- And of course, if you´re thinking (or even dreaming) of Amazon Travel, you know who to chat to. We will help you get here.