Large, clumsy bird with heavy body, big tail, long neck and small head with large, spiky, reddish-brown crest. Upperparts dark brown, streaked with white on neck and shoulders. Outer flight feathers reddish; tail tipped with yellow. Blue bare skin on face; red eyes; dark legs; horn colored bill.
This bird breeds in family groups in the tropical rainy season, with up to 6 adults building a nest and caring for the eggs and their young. Their nest is a frail platform of sticks in a tree above water. They have 2-5 yellowish buff to creamy white eggs, spotted with blue violet or brown.
This old bird was once thought to be a primitive living relative of the long extinct archaeopteryx, a survivor from the earliest phase of bird evolution. But it is seen today as a specialized bird. It feeds almost exclusively on leaves, which are easy to find but difficult to digest. In Guyana this bird is known as the “stinking pheasant” because of the way it has to digest its food.
The Hoatzin birds feed in the early morning and evening for about 4 hours a day. All adults help take care of eggs and raise the young, feeding them on a mash of half digested leaves.
They have prehistoric looking claws on their wings that help them scramble among the branches, and if they are attacked they dive into the water, swim to the shore and climb back up into the trees.