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Opisthocomidae – Hoatzin

Hoatzin in Ecuador: Photo by Angus Pritchard

Opisthocomidae is a unique bird family represented by a single species, the Hoatzin, found in the wetlands and rainforests of the Amazon Basin and other parts of South America. Often called the “stinkbird” for its digestive system that ferments vegetation similar to a cow’s, the Hoatzin emits a distinctive odor. This unusual digestive process allows it to subsist on a diet of leaves, an uncommon trait among birds. The Hoatzin’s appearance is equally distinctive, with bright blue facial skin, red eyes, and a spiky crest. Explore this fascinating species’ adaptations and behavior in our guide to learn more about this unusual and intriguing bird.

Overview of Opisthocomidae

These striking birds have a chicken-like bill, proportions resembling a turaco, and a tousled crest reminiscent of a hoopoe. Hoatzins nest in shrubs over still waters in northern South America. Young chicks are skilled swimmers and can climb back to the nest if they fall, using two functional claws on each wing that vanish as the birds mature. Hoatzins possess a rumen-like crop that ferments their primarily leaf-based diet. This process requires time, causing these unusual birds to spend much of the day resting on branches and producing manure-like odors, which have earned them the nickname “stink-birds.”