A hoatzin is a tropical bird found in South America. It is the national bird of Guyana and can be found widely distributed in swamps and marshes across its range. These birds are not known to be endangered or threatened. Birders who visit South America have an opportunity to see a number of unusual birds and the hoatzin is among the most unusual that birders will be able to see.
These birds are more closely linked to extinct bird species than any living birds, although they are genetically similar to cuckoos. They are believed to represent an earlier stage of bird evolution, as well as a missing link with prehistoric birds. This makes the hoatzin a topic of interest for scientists who are tracking the evolution of the bird, as well as birders who collect sightings of unusual specimens.
The hoatzin is approximately pheasant-sized, with a body in shades of brown, rust, gold, black, and cream. Their heads are bare and covered in blue skin, and they have distinctive maroon eyes. They are also known as stinkbirds for the distinctive odor produced by adults to drive off predators. This odor makes their flesh unpalatable and ensures that the birds are primarily ignored by potential predators, including humans.
Hoatzins have a very large crest of feathers on their heads and they are infamously noisy birds. In addition to making a range of calls, they also flap their wings in displays to communicate with other birds, and they are noisy fliers as well. Since the birds are relatively protected from predators by their stench, they did not need to adapt strong flying skills or the ability to move silently. This is convenient for birders on the hunt for new entries for their life lists.
Also known as Opisthocomus hoazin, these birds have several interesting and unusual characteristics. The chicks are born with small claws on their wings that allow them to climb trees while their wings are developing. The birds also have an unusually large crop that allows them to ferment plant materials after eating them in a form of predigestion. This means that the birds can derive nutrients from plants much like goats, cattle, and other ruminants. They also take longer to digest food and are not required to be constantly in search of meals. Eating two to three times a day usually satisfies nutritional needs, conserving energy for the hoatzin.