Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin)


Class: Aves
Order: Cuculiformes
Family:    Opisthocomidae
Size:    Length: 24 to 26 inches (61 to 66 cm)
Weight: 16 to 18 ounces (450 to 800 g)
Diet: Leaves, fruit and flowers, especially the moko-moko plant
Distribution: South America
Young:  Two to four chicks, once a year
Animal Predators:  Monkeys, snakes and hawks
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Chick
Lifespan: Unknown



·      The scientific name opisthocomus hoazin means “pheasant with a crest down its back.”

·      Hoatzin is pronounced “what-seen” and was originally an Aztec word.

·      Hoatzins are one of the few tree-dwelling birds that feed leaves to their young.

·      The hoatzin is the national bird of Guyana.

·      Unlike other jungle dwellers, hoatzins make no effort to conceal themselves.



These unique birds are approximately the same size as domestic chickens and although they can fly, they do so awkwardly and only for short distances. Physically, they resemble chickens as well, but are more brightly coloured, with a long neck, bright red wings and dark, white-tipped tail feathers. Young hoatzins have wing claws on the ends of their first and second digits, which they use to climb trees in order to escape predators. Adult hoatzins give off an unpleasant odour, earning them the nickname “stinkbird.” The odour keeps them from being sought after for their meat by hunters or other predators.



Their nests are built over water so that if a predator such as a monkey or a snake threatens the chicks, they can jump out of the nest into water, where they swim to safety. Hoatzins live near swamps, marshes, lakes and streams in the rainforests and jungles of South America, from Guyana to Brazil. They usually avoid fast-moving water.


Feeding Habits

Hoatzins eat leaves, fruit and flowers, especially the moko-moko plant. They have a special digestive system that allows the vegetation they eat to ferment, in much the same way that cattle and kangaroos digest their food. They usually eat in the morning and evening and spend the rest of the time sitting quietly or socializing with other birds. 



Both the male and female build a flat, unlined nest from sticks five to 20 feet (1.5 to 6.1 m) above water. They take turns incubating the eggs for the next month until the eggs hatch. Although the chicks may crawl out of the nest when they are two to three weeks old, they do not begin to fly until they are at least two months of age. The youngsters use the two claws they have on each wing to climb back into the nest. The claws disappear once the chicks are full-grown. The youngsters stay with their parents for another season or two and help take care of subsequent offspring, as well as defend the territory. They eventually leave to begin families of their own. 



Hoatzins live in groups of up to 50 birds and communicate with each other using various calls. Not many birds take easily to water, but hoatzins are adept swimmers, using their feet and wings to dog paddle back to shore.



Hoatzins are not considered a conservation concern, but their habitat is dwindling due to urban development. They are also threatened by hunting, mostly for their beautifully coloured feathers.