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Basic Information

The Hoatzin, also known as Skunkbird or Stinkbird, is a species of bird that lives along the Amazon river and Orinoco basin in South America. It's mostly various shades of brown, but has splashes of blue and red coloration, and sort of a feathery mohawk. It also has a number of remarkable adaptations to its habitat.

The reason for its unusual colloquial names is because the Hoatzin eats leaves. Leaves are not easy to digest, so the Hoatzin stores the chewed leaves in the early part of its gut, and ferments them, much like how cattle and goats do. This extra digestive tract has two notable effects:

  • It makes their breath smell like fresh manure. (They don't call it a stinkbird for nothing.)
  • The unique shape of their body makes them slightly worse at flying than other birds of their size.

An adult is roughly 65cm (a little over 2 feet) long.

Young Hoatzin that have not yet learned to fly exhibit interesting defensive behavior. Hoatzin nest in branches extending over the river. If baby Hoatzin is in danger, it will jump out of the nest and in to the water. Young Hoatzin are excellent swimmers, so they are likely to get away from the danger. Later, when the coast is clear, they'll return to the nest by climbing the tree. They have two claws on each wing (sort of like a miniature dragon with feathers), and can use them get back up in to the branches despite yet not being able to fly.



Game and Story Use

  • Could serve as an interesting evolutionary model for a dinosaur or monster.
    • D&D in particular is full of weird critters with unusual diets and strange behavior, so it feels like it would be right at home there.
      • Like the panda, this is also an example of how even evolution can get an animal running on the wrong fuel, so once that bloody wizard gets to work, all bets are off.
    • If you're going the dinosaur route, they kind of look like an Archaeopteryx, so that would be a natural match to port this behavior and stench over to. Putting it on something a bit bigger and more threatening could be interesting as well. Like a pack of tree-dwelling river-loving velociraptors or the like.
    • There is the potential for regurgitating the contents of the fermenting stomach as a response to predators … the baseline would be being sprayed with foul smelling filth, but fantastical examples might add all sorts of unpleasantness such as flammable or corrosive characteristics.
  • The PCs need to raid a nest that's way out on a treebranch or a cliff overlooking a river. (Maybe the eggs are alchemical components of something like that.) If momma bird (is bigger than a real-world Hoatzin, and) comes home, you've got an interesting place for a fight scene.
    • Falling into the water would be very inconvenient, but probably not lethal… unless there are also aquatic monsters in the river… or the PC is in heavy armor with a big penalty to swimming checks… or there's a rapids just downstream. Adjust to match your intended difficulty level.
    • To be honest, if you've worn medieval European style armour all the way up the Amazon, you'll not be good for much before the fight starts…
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