Hoatzin – Photo: Walter Mancilla

On a quick trip to any of the three Oxbow Lakes that are found within our private reserve, it is almost certain to have an encounter with a character from Jurassic Park. The Hoatzin –locally known as Shansho- is a bird that seems to have been forgotten by evolution long ago. Its resemblance to the Archaeopteryx is amazing.

Archaeopterxy Fossil – Photo: Stacey Burgess

Archaeopteryx Illustration

As if this prehistoric-looking bird was not weird enough thanks to its prehistoric look, some of its behaviors and physical adaptations making it even more fascinating.

 Most bird species feed on either other animals (insects, lizards, snails, small mammals, or other birds), or they feed on fruit. However, Hoatzins feed on leaves. In other to be able to process the cellulose, they have a very big and developed stomach, filled with cellulose-breaking bacteria. Having such a big stomach has its consequences. In order to make space for such a big stomach, Hoatzins have had to give most of their pectoral muscles up. This makes them mostly sedentary and arguably the worst flyers in the Amazon.

Another reason for their bad flying skills, is that they have no predators. The cellulose fermentation makes them stink. Really bad. Making them an unlike prey to any predator. They are only eaten by larger birds when they are young, and their food is still processed by their parents.

 In order to protect their their fledglings from predators, Hoatzins nest next to bodies of water –that is why they are so common in our Oxbow Lakes-. The amazing part is that when the fledglings sense danger, they will jump out of the nest, into the water, where they can actually dive up to 15 meters deep to protect themselves from Hawks or Herons! Once the danger has passed, this birds will climb back up the nest with special claws in their wings!

 If you wish to see this amazing prehistoric bird, we highly recommend you to visit our Cocha Camungo. This Oxbow Lake has a population of several hundred Hoatzin individuals, making it one of densest populations of this species in the world!  As usual, if you have any question, please do not hesitate to contact us, or leave us a comment in the comment section below.   

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