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Animal World: Our Co-inhabitants

Hoatzin: The Enigmatic Bird

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We hoatzins live in trees and shrubs among the swamps, tropical riverbanks, and mangroves around the Amazon and Orinoco rivers in South America. We are Guyana’s national bird and are honorably included in Guyana’s Coat of Arms. Interestingly, from an evolutionary standpoint, nobody really knows where we came from! We have an extraordinarily colorful appearance. With an un-feathered blue face and maroon eyes, our small head is topped with a cool, spiky 10-centimeter rufous crest, just like a punk rocker’s mohawk. Therefore, some locals call us “Punk Rock Birds.” Hoatzins are exclusively vegan, and along with the Owl Parrot, we are the only two bird species that primarily eat leaves. We also sometimes eat buds, flowers, and fruits as dessert. Foraging in the early morning and evening, we spend the rest of the day comfortably roosting. We have a very potent odor, and are also known as the stink or skunk bird of the marshes. We have a super-sized crop at the base of our throat to store and digest consumed leaves and fruits. This stinky smell is from the chemicals released during the fermentation process taking place in the crop, where bacteria slowly break down the fibrous leaves for us. The rumination process is just like a cow’s, so some people call us “flying cows.” What’s so special about our chicks? They have claws on their wings! While some other birds, such as chickens, kea parrots, and ostriches also have vestigial claws on their wings, we are the only living bird with functional ones that are important to our survival. These cool and handy wing claws are present and functional only when we are young. They disappear once we reach adulthood. The next time you join an Amazon River cruise, look for our spiky orange Mohawk, and listen for us!
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