Digestive efficiency of the Hoatzin, Opisthocomus hoazin: a folivorous bird with foregut fermentation


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The Hoatzin Opisthocomus hoazin is the only known bird with a well‐developed foregut plant fermentation system; most fermentation takes place in the crop and caudal oesophagus. To test Hoatzin digestive efficiency, balance (total collection) trials with captive Hoatzins were made using two experimental diets of different composition and fibre content. Dry matter (DM) intakes were similar for the diets (mean = 62.8 g DM/kg body mass/ day). Average DM, organic matter and nitrogen digestibilities were not significantly different between diets, with average values of 72.9%, 75.0% and 78.3%, respectively. In vitro organic matter digestibilities by cow ruminal inoculum were very similar to organic matter digestibilities in live Hoatzins for both diets. Fibre digestibility was among the highest recorded for herbivorous birds. Cellulose and acid detergent fibre digestibilities were 58.8% and 52.7%, respectively. Neutral detergent fibre (NDF) digestibility differed among diets—the higher the NDF content of the diet, the higher the NDF digestibility. The NDF digestibilities were 37.9% and 70.9% for the two diets with NDF concentrations of 32.4% and 37.3%, respectively. Differences in NDF digestibility can be attributed to the different concentrations of hemicellulose in the experimental diets. The high overall digestibility by captive Hoatzins is higher than values previously reported for other avian herbivores but similar to those of foregut‐fermenting mammals on similar diets. The unique digestive strategy of the Hoatzin maximizes digestion of cell wall and cell contents. The high digestive efficiency in the Hoatzin is not predicted by allometric models of fibre digestion as a function of body mass. Other nutritional benefits, such as detoxification of plant secondary compounds and microbial synthesis of essential amino acids and vitamins, may explain the evolution of foregut fermentation in this avian folivore.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-388
Number of pages6
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1995

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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