Hoatzins were possibly the most unique bird species I observed during my time in Ecuador. This species seems to have branched off from other species of birds very early in history. They have a prehistory look to them and links to other species have not been found. As such they have been placed within their own family of birds. These are a unique species of tropical birds found in rain forests. Known as stinky turkeys, these birds have developed a unique strategy for surviving in a harsh environment.

While most of the vegetation biomass of the Amazon rainforest is tied up in tree leaves, many animals are unable to survive on these as they are hard to digest and often contain toxins. Hoatzins however are folivores, meaning they eat only leaves. While some mammals have also developed this diet,this dietary behavior is especially unique amongst birds. They are the only bird species known to use foregut fermentation (like cattle). This adaptation is necessary to digest the leaves they feed on. As a result of this diet they have a distinct odor often compared to fresh cow manure due to this fermentation process.

Another unique adaptation is found in their nestlings. As these birds live in an environment that is full of predators they need some way to evade them while they are still to young to fly. These birds live near water bodies and  often their nestlings will fling themselves into the water to evade predators. This is not an act of suicide though. The nestlings possess claws on their wings which they use to hook on limbs and climb back out of the water and into their nests.

Hoatzin along Napo River, Ecuador

Hoatzin along Napo River, Ecuador

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