brief-description-of-the-hoatzin-e28093-the-bird-that-is-the-size-of-a-chickenLocal Name: Shansho
Scientific Name: Opisthocomus hoazin
Order: Opisthocomiformes


Length: 61 -66 cm (24 - 26 in). Weight: 816 g (1.8 lb - male) Chicken-sized bird, with large wings, small head, long neck, long tail. Head almost bare, with frizzy red crest, large bright blue area around eyes, which are red. Short bill. Bronze olive color above, buff streaks on hindneck and mantle; tail black, shoulders and tip of tail pale buff; throat and breast buffy white; remaining underparts and primaries, chestnut colored. Sexes similar but female slightly smaller and has lower crest. “Prehistoric” appearance.


South American only; Guianas and Venezuela south to Bolivia, Peru and Amazonian Brazil. Lowland, to 500 m altitude.


Found in vicinity of swamps, mangroves, lowland flood forest, river banks, oxbow lakes, where aquatic vegetation and giant arums plentiful. Perch on low or middle branches of vegetation overhanging water; occasionally found in treetops, especially when roosting.


Feed primarily on leaves and shoots of some marsh and swamp plants, mainly arums (philodendron family). Leaves are ground in the large double crop, and ferment there, giving bird a musky odor. Weak fliers because of size of crop, which displace some of breast flight muscles; thus they are sedentary and somewhat ungainly. Live in pairs in groups of 50 or more. Perch on branches, while resting a callous on sternum on branch. When alarmed, open large wings, displaying bright chestnut flight feathers around a large black spot surrounded by white - this simulates an “eye”. Diurnal and nocturnal, tends to rest during hottest part of day. Not palatable to humans but preyed on by monkeys. Some evidence of relationship to cuckoos.

Life History

Breeds during rainy season. During breeding, live in small groups of two to ten; a few of which are breeders and the others, “helpers”. Entire group incubates eggs and cares for young, which are fed from crop of adult caretakers. Mating probably polygamous and promiscuous. Build loose stick platform two to eight meters above water. Each nest contains two (occasionally three) creamy oblong eggs spotted with pink, blue or brown. Incubation about 28 days. Newly-hatched hoatzins almost featherless, but rapidly grow down, and have claws on first and second digits, so they can climb on vegetation. When endangered, they drop into the water, using claws, bills and feet to climb out (they may not return to nest). Claws disappear at time of definitive plumage formation. Remain in nest for several weeks after hatching.


Locally common, but not near human habitation because of human predation on eggs, and on adults for meat for bait, feathers for fans. —