ne of the most magnificent birds of the Amazon is the Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin). The mature Hoatzin is approximately 22 inches long from bill to tail. It has a reddish-brown color streaked with green. The lower body is light brown. Feathers on its shoulder and laterals are bordered with a creamy-white color. The bird has a crown of very long feathers on its head that gives the bird a very majestic look. The beak of the Hoatzin is very short and very thick, and the skin around the red eye is a pale light blue color.
The Hoatzin is found throughout the year in areas along the banks of the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers and their tributaries. Its diet principally consists of leaves of aquatic vegetation. The nesting time for the Hoatzin is typically from April to September.
The typical bird in the Amazon spends most of its day seeking berries, insects, and other foods that supply the energy needed for flight. However, the Hoatzin, a native of the South American floodplains, has a unique digestive tract allows it hours of leisure, unlike typical birds. Alejandro Grajal, a biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, has discovered that Hoatzins can live on a diet of pure plants, more like a cow or sheep than a bird. This gives the Hoatzin a competitive advantage over other Amazon birds.
One of the most fascinating characteristics of this bird is the claw that is present on each wing. Although useless to the adult Hoatzin, young birds use the claws to climb in and near their nest. Some have theorized that the primary function of the wing claw is to help the young hoatzin manuver through tree branches to avoid predators when the parents are not in the nest.
By Dan James Pantone, Editor of