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Three Odd Facts About the Hoatzin

Pat ODonnell

For most of us, rainforests are synonymous with bizarre bugs and exotic creatures. Although many birds of the jungle actually have dull brown or gray plumages, and some of the bugs look kind of like ones at home, there certainly are a lot of animals with odd and spectacular appearances. The rainforests of Tambopata are no exception and host one of the most bizarre bird species on the planet, the Hoatzin.

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This denizen of oxbow lakes is named after the Nahuatl word for pheasant, "uatzin". Although the Nahuatl people hail from Mexico and would have therefore never encountered a Hoatzin, the word was apparently adopted by Spanish colonists who encountered the species in the Amazon basin. Here are a few other odd facts about this strange bird:

An herbivore

While many birds eat insects, seeds, and fruits, the Hoatzin mostly eats leaves! In common with ruminants like cows, its digestive tract is adapted to a mostly vegetarian diet, and, because of this, it can give off an unpleasant fermenting smell.   

Sole survivor of an ancient lineage

The odd appearance of the Hoatzin has baffled taxonomists for more than a century. Recently, improved DNA studies have shown that this bird is actually the last representative of an avian lineage that dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.

Clawed wings

Young Hoatzins use claws on their wings to clamber around vegetation!

When visiting Tambopata, look for Hoatzins at the Tres Chimbada Lake and other oxbow lakes.

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