Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin)
Order: Cuculiformes, Family: Opisthocomidae
The hoatzin is pear-shaped with a bare face and shaggy crest.
It measures approximately 24 to 26 inches in length.
The hoatzin has blue skin covering its face, and red eyes; its outer feathers are primarily chestnut-brown, and it has a long, bronze-green tail ending in white. Its head is topped with reddish-brown crest feathers.
Young hoatzin are born without feathers, developing a layer of black down shortly after birth.
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
- The hoatzin is pear-shaped with a bare face and shaggy crest.
- It measures approximately 24 to 26 inches in length.
- The hoatzin has blue skin covering its face, and red eyes; its outer feathers are primarily chestnut-brown, and it has a long, bronze-green tail ending in white. Its head is topped with reddish-brown crest feathers.
- Young hoatzin are born without feathers, developing a layer of black down shortly after birth.
- Hoatzins can be found throughout the Amazon, in northern and central South America.
- Their habitats include tropical rain forest, swamps, freshwater marshes, gallery forests, and the banks of rivers, lakes and streams.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
- Primarily folivores, hoatzins typically feed on less than 12 species of plants (mostly tropical legume plants), though they're capable of eating more than 50 species; they occasionally eat certain flowers and fruits.
V. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
- The hoatzin forages in early morning and early evening, spending the remainder of the day roosting quietly as it digests its meal.
- Social animals, hoatzins live in family groups and small aggregations (up to 40 individuals) year-round. They're noisy and often vocalize in unison with a collection of hoarse cries, grunts, growls and hisses.
- Hoatzins are territorial, especially during breeding season. They seek territory over water and build their nests on branches over water about 6 to 15 feet above the surface. Because nesting locations can be scarce, both the male and female actively defend their territory. Breeding pairs inform others of boundaries with displays of ritual copulations, loud noises and aggressive postures.
- The hoatzin becomes sexually mature after 1 year of age.
- Breeding coincides with the annual rains. During the breeding season, hoatzins occupy densely packed exclusive territories, sometimes containing up to 28 individuals in one tree.
- Females normally lay two to three eggs, with incubation lasting 32 days. Both sexes brood young.
- Young typically remain in nest for two to three weeks after hatching, and often live with parents for several years, assisting parents with new hatchlings and defense of the family's territory. Because of its enlarged crop (see Special Notes/Adaptations), the hoatzin is a clumsy flyer, and young may not take their first flight for up to 70 days.
VI. EFFECT ON ENVIRONMENT:
- The hoatzin has a specialized digestive system (similar to cows, sheep, deer and kangaroos) called foregut fermentation — an enlarged crop in which symbiotic bacteria are stored and used to break down cell walls of leaves, allowing for digestion. Bacteria within the crop also serves as a source of nutrients by occasionally getting moved into the stomach; adults regurgitate a sticky substance containing large amounts of bacteria and feed it to their young.
- Because they are clumsy fliers, young hoatzin have adapted an unusual feature for fleeing predators. They have a pair of claws located on the ends of their wings on the first and second fingers, which they use to climb trees and thus escape a predator's reach. Young hoatzin lose their claws once they reach maturity.
VII. POPULATION STATUS:
- Young are preyed upon by monkeys, hawks, and snakes.
VIII. MORE HOATZIN FACTS:
- The hoatzin is not yet considered endangered, though hunting and destruction of its habitat are growing threats.
- The hoatzin is often considered one of the most primitive birds.
- It is the only bird with a foregut-fermentation digestive system.