Hoatzin Fact File

Ophisthocomus hoazin

Credit: Murray Foubister, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons








Wild 8 years

Captive 8 years




Conservation Status


Least Concern

One Real Weird Bird!

The hoatzin is one of the only birds which can feed almost exclusively on leaves. These are fermented in a large stomach using bacteria which is passed from the parents to their young.

As a result of the fermentation they undertake gases are produced. These are expelled from the hoatzin creating a rather offensive odor.

Chicks are equipped with small claws. These are used when the chick is threatened. They can drop from the tree and then climb up the tree trunk back in to their nest.

This species is threatened through collection for the pet trade and food.

Read on to learn more about these beautiful birds.


What does the Hoatzin look like?

The hoatzin has a primarily featherless face with the blue skin being visible across most of it. On top of this head is a spiky crown of orange feathers.

Across the back their wings are colored chestnut-brown and has a long bronze-green tail. This is tipped with white feathers at the end.

These birds have a striking red, round eye with a black pupil.

An average hoatzin will measure 61-66cm (24-26in) long with a weight of up to 900g (32oz).


How does the Hoatzin survive in its habitat?

The stomach of the hoatzin is similar to that of a cow allowing them to undertake hindgut fermentation, an essential process to allow for their diet which is formed entirely of leaves.

To allow room for the increased stomach size necessary to allow for this process they have smaller flight muscles than most birds and are clumsy in flight as a result. Within their stomachs are bacteria which help to digest their food.

Young must receive the bacteria to digest their food from their parents. This is regurgitated by the parents as a sticky substance for the young.

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What does the Hoatzin eat?

Hoatzins are one of the few birds which feed entirely on leaves.

It will take up to 45 hours for their food to digest. As a result of this long digestion period they will spend up to 80% of their time resting.

Learn more about the Hoatzin in this video from Bizzare Beasts on YouTube


Where do you find the Hoatzin?

South and Central America is the native home of the hoatzin. Here they can be found in the following countries - Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Peru; Suriname and Venezuela.


Where can the Hoatzin survive?

These animals are found in forest and wetland habitats. Their nests are built over a watercourse.

Hoatzin (Ophisthocomus hoazin)

Credit: ricardo_soul, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


How does the Hoatzin produce its young?

Breeding takes place during the rainy season in their range.

Chicks hatch after a 28 day incubation period. Between 2 and 5 eggs are laid in to the nest. At hatching the chicks have dark brown down.

Both the male and female will work to raise the young in the three weeks after they hatch.

At birth the chicks have claws on their wings. These are lost as they mature. Chicks use these claws to climb up the trunks of trees.

Should the chick come in to danger it will leap from the nest which is typically built over water. They then find their way to the shore and climb up a tree trunk to get back in to the nest.

Young birds will spend the first few years of life in their parents territory as new territories are scarce. They will provide some assistance to their parents as they raise their next clutch.

Sexual maturity is reached at 3 years old.


What does the Hoatzin do during its day?

The call of the hoatzin is described as sounding like a breathless rasp.

These birds live in small groups which include an average of 8 members though some grow to include as many as 100 individuals. These groups help one another to find food and raise their young.

These birds have been nicknamed the stinkbird. This is a result of the bacteria in their stomach which helps to ferment their food. They will belch to release the gases.

A pair of hoatzins will form a territory which they defend against entry by other birds. They display through copulations and loud calls.

Hoatzin (Ophisthocomus hoazin)

Credit: Alejandro Bayer Tamayo from Armenia, Colombia, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What stops the Hoatzin from surviving and thriving?

Natural predators of the hoatzin include snakes, monkeys and birds of prey.

While considered to be common the hoatzin is decreasing in number. Small numbers are collected for the pet trade and for use as food.

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Quick facts

The hoatzin is known by a number of alternative names including the stink bird, reptile bird, canje pheasant or skunk bird.

Their taxonomy is a topic of fierce debate and is still not settled. At present the species is listed in its own genus, Opisthocomus. The genus name is taken from Ancient Greek for "long haird behind" and references their crest of feathers.

These animals branched off from the remainder of the avian tree around 65 million years ago.

They have been linked to the species, Archaeopteryx due to the claws on the wing.

Hoatzin (Ophisthocomus hoazin)

Credit: Bill Bouton, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Christiansen, P., 2019. Birds. London: Amber Books Ltd

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Cossins, J., 2021. Book of Curious Birds. Lothian Children's Books.

Williams, K. 2001. "Opisthocomus hoazin" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 12, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Opisthocomus_hoazin/

Peru Aves. 2022. Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) - Peru Aves. [online] Available at: <https://www.peruaves.org/opisthocomidae/hoatzin-opisthocomus-hoazin/> [Accessed 12 March 2022].

Rainforest Expeditions. 2022. HOATZIN - Rainforest Expeditions Tambopata PERU. [online] Available at: <https://www.rainforestexpeditions.com/wildlife/hoatzin/> [Accessed 12 March 2022].

San Francisco Zoo & Gardens |. 2022. Hoatzin | San Francisco Zoo & Gardens. [online] Available at: <https://www.sfzoo.org/hoatzin/> [Accessed 12 March 2022].

Parry, J., 2022. Why does the hoatzin or ‘stink bird’ stink?. [online] Discover Wildlife. Available at: <https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/birds/why-does-the-hoatzin-or-stink-bird-stink/> [Accessed 12 March 2022].

Phillipsen, I., 2022. The Hoatzin: A Weird and Wonderful Bird. [online] Wild Latitudes. Available at: <https://wildlatitudes.com/the-hoatzin-a-weird-and-wonderful-bird/> [Accessed 12 March 2022].

Audubon. 2022. The Hoatzin. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/news/hoatzin> [Accessed 12 March 2022].

BirdLife International. 2016. Opisthocomus hoazinThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22684428A93028795. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22684428A93028795.en. Accessed on 12 March 2022.

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