In the swamplands and along the river banks of the Amazon and the Orinoco there lives a bird that swims before it can fly, flies like a fat chicken, eats green leaves, has the stomach of a cow and has claws on its wings when young.   It would not be out of place in Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland, but it is real. It is called the hoatzin.

In appearance, the adult looks like a cross between a domestic chicken and a secretary bird. Male and female look very much alike with brown on the back and cream and rusty red underneath. The head is small, with a large crest on the top, bright red eyes, and electric blue skin. Its nearest relatives are the cuckoos. Its most remarkable feature, though, is not found in the adult but in the young.

Baby hoatzins have a claw on the leading edge of each wing and another at the end of each wing tip. Using these four claws, together with the beak, they can clamber about in the undergrowth, looking very much like primitive birds must have done. The hoatzin, however, could, not be considered a primitive bird.  It is a highly specialised bird.

During the drier months between December and March hoatzins fly about the forest in flocks containing 20-30 birds, but in April, when the rainy season begins, they collect together in smaller breeding units of two to seven individuals.  They build their nests about 4.6m above the river, an important feature for the survival of the young.

When danger threatens them, in the form of a snake or a monkey, the young hoatzins  – maybe three in one nest – dive over the side and into the river. They swim about under the water until it is safe to return and then, using their claws, haul themselves up through the branches and back to the nest. When they have learned to fly they lose their claws and escape predators not by swimming but by flapping off, in a rather ungainly fashion, to a neighbouring tree.


OM PERSONAL MULTIMEDIA ENGLISH: Desde 1999 en Internet  © Orlando Moure - Todos los Derechos Reservados
Buenos Aires, República Argentina
 | Home Page: | Correo:
Queda absolutamente prohibida la reproducción o descarga de contenidos de este portal  Términos Legales