Known locally as shansho, few birds are more common and bizarre in the jungle than the hoatzin, a chicken-like bird with a spiky crest that can often be seen flapping noisily around bushes at water’s edge.
They make odd grunting noises and eat only leaves, which are digested by a system of three stomachs, or “crops.” The leaves ferment inside their crops, thus giving these birds a bad odor. The hoatzin doesn’t mind being smelly because its scent is its main protection from predators.
Hoatzin chicks are born with claws on their wings like the flying pterodactyl. When an anaconda or other predator comes to the nest to eat the chicks, they dive into the water. When the danger is past, they use their claws to climb back into their nest. Acientists thought the hoatzin was descendant of the prehistoric bird, but recent DNA analysis indicates the hoatzin is a strange member of the cuckoo family. Its claws are probably a relatively recent adaptation.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition