Creatures of the Amazon
The Hoatzin
By Mike Collis

The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) is one of the most least seen birds in the Amazon, but they are not rare. The Hoatzin is closely related to the Cuckoo. This bird spends most of its time along riverbanks and quiet lakes. It prefers water areas bordered with giant arums. It is unusual to find them near fast moving rivers and streams. The hoatzin is pure vegetarian and its diet consists of waterside vegetation. Being a pure vegetarian gives it an advantage of other birds who need to vary their diets. This diet also gives the bird a very bad smell which is caused by symbiotic microbes in its stomach that helps it digest its leafy food. The Hoatzin is also called Stinkbird because of this foul odour.

A full grown Hoatzin can grow up to 2 feet in length. Its plumage is reddish brown with green streaks here and there, getting a little lighter brown further down the body. It has a collar of white feathers on its shoulders and a crown of long reddish orange feathers on its small head. Its red eyes are surrounded by bare blue skin. Hoatzins find it difficult to fly and tend to flutter from tree to tree.

Hoatzins usually mate between April and the end of August. This nesting seaso however varies throughout the Amazon region, but generally speaking mating nearly always coincides with high water level. During the nesting season they have less tendency to keep a low profile and are quite boystrous and noisy. They gather together in small flocks and unlike other birds there is no pair bonding. Nests are usually built in trees about 6 feet above the water and consist of twigs and branches. Normally the females lay between 2 and 5 creamy pink eggs with blue or brown spots. The group collectively incubate the eggs and share looking after the young hatchlings. The young are fed regurgitated vegetation. The chicks take some time before leaving the nest but during this time they grow a claw on each wing. This claw is used to help the chick move around its home tree and when in danger it drops into the water below and once it is safe to return it climbs back to the nest using it's claws, feet and beak.

The Hoatzin is not endangered and are quite common in Amazonia. Local people leave the Hoatzin alone and do not hunt them because of its bad smell and bad tasting flesh.
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