Hoatzin A Name?

The Hoatzin was unmissable at Sani Lodge. The bird is unique. It has no peers. It does have spiked feathers atop, a loud hissing voice that sounds like the largest reptile warning you off. It does climb slowly but nimbly in small trees with branches barely able to support its weight.  It is pheasant sized. As you canoe about the lake and riverways at Sani Lodge you encounter small pods of Hoatzin in the trees, bathing along the riverbank, sleeping on limbs. We never saw one fly but I am told their wings do function.
They’re herbivorous, dining on the rich variety of plant leaves in the ever green forest of the Napo River and similar tropical habitat.  They also like some of the abundant native fruits.
It’s Latin binomial is Opisthocomus hoazin. It’s family name: Opisthocomidae. There is just one species in that family. Says Wikipedia about the family name: “Ancient greek wearing long hair behind, referring to its large crest.”

Altogether the Hoatzin’s uniqueness is a source of much puzzlement and lack of scientific agreement. DNA has not helped much. Current speculation has them most closely aligned with cuckoos. Or maybe with doves. Or with nightjars. But the reality of the Hoatzin in lowland South America is wondrous to see.

Sani Lodge is a three hour boat ride from the nearest town. That would be oil boom-town Coca. It’s a half-hour plane ride east of Quito. Coca’s about fifty miles straight east of the Andean crest but there are no straight lines or roads so it’s a five hour drive from Quito which is west of the Andean divide.  The boat ride on a motor-powered canoe affords great birding.  Plumbeous and Swallowtail Kites, Swallow-winged Puffbird, Black, Yellow-headed and Carunculated Caracara, Great Yellow-headed Vultures, Drab River-tyrant. This is one of the Swallowtail Kites that hunted in pairs over our canoe along the Napo River.

These are two of the Swallow-winged Puffbirds we saw from the canoe.
The Sani Comune (township of resident population) made a deal with the dreaded oil companies: build us an ecolodge and we will grant you right-of-way to run your pipeline under our land. But to our last breath we will refuse to let you drill or mine in our part of the Amazon lowland forest. Thus the Sani village controls one of the most pristine sections of the Napo River Valley. The Napo itself is a major tributary to the Amazon itself.

Sani land borders huge areas being exploited by European and American oil companies and now the Ecuadoran government oil agencies. Ecuador is still in court trying to recover damages from Chevron for egregious oil spills and ecological damage done in the Amazonian lowlands. But nobody’s going to shut down the wells that are delivering crude crud. Locals in Sani blame oil companies for polluted river water, increasing disease rates and even swamping local canoes with their large river boats. The Hoatzin and locally-owned Sani Lodge can be a part of your next birding trip to Ecuador with Partnership For International Birding and Neblina Forest Tours. Here’s our schedule for next year.

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