Often seen swooping up its prey with its large talons, the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is the most powerful bird in the Amazon. This eagle can have a wingspan as long as seven feet (2 m) and weigh as much as ten pounds (4.5 kg). It is considered a top predator that feeds on large to small mammals including monkeys and sloths. An adult harpy can grow talons up to seven inches long. This eagle can also be identified by its black chest, white underside, and plume of gray feathers that crowns its gray head.
The harpy eagle nests in tall trees in the Amazon, such as the Brazil nut tree. Pairs mate every other year producing one to two chicks. Parents raise their chicks in nests built of sticks.
Appropriately named after the yellow streak of feathers on the back of its head, the yellow-tufted woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus) is an omnivorous bird that drills into trees and vines to find insects and build nests. This woodpecker's entire body is built for boring holes. It has a resilient sharp bill used to chisel out holes and a barbed tongue that helps it eat woodboring insects.
In addition, the yellow-tufted woodpecker has strong claws and tail feathers that provide a secure and well balanced hold to a tree. Its neck muscles even absorb the shock created by the repetitive back and forth motion used in drilling. Aside from insects, the yellow-tufted woodpecker feeds on nectar and fruits in the Amazon. This bird is also very social and is often seen traveling in pairs or in group of five.
Widely recognized for its festive plumes of rainbow-colored feathers, the macaw (Genus: Ara) is the largest and most endangered long-tailed parrot in the world. This bird of the tropical rain forest can measure up to 39 inches long (100 cm), has a strong beak, and is adorned with bright red, yellow, green, or blue feathers.
Macaws are extremely social birds and are often seen gathering in large, noisy groups on clay licks, exposed cliffs of hardened clay, in the Amazon. In addition to serving as a community center, the clay licks provide the macaw with essential minerals used to neutralize toxins of seeds and leaves that the macaw eats.
Like beavers and swans, macaws are monogamous and mate for life. They are finicky nesters and will only raise their young in dead palm trees or in the holes of other canopy trees. Finding a place to nest is often difficult, considering that, on average, only one nesting site per 62.5 acres (25 hectares) of land is suitable. Compounding this problem is the macaw's low reproductive rate. Scientists in Manu have observed that only 20% of adult mated pairs actually attempt to nest and of that group 30% fail to raise a chick.
Unfortunately, human admiration for this visually-striking parrot has ironically endangered eight of the eighteen species of macaws. The macaw population has suffered from international demand for exotic pet birds as well as from loss of habitat. Despite these pressures, the macaw still persists, and on occasion, a traveler in the Amazon might be lucky enough to see a flock of macaws fly over the canopy like a rainbow shooting across the sky-- a dazzling site to behold indeed.
In Manu and other regions of the Amazon, the black skimmer (Rynchops nigra) is frequently seen "skimming" the surface of waters in search of fish. This black-bodied bird with a white face and chest has a unique beak that helps its catch its prey. The lower mandible of the skimmer's black and orange-striped beak is longer than the upper one. As the black skimmer coasts along the water's surface, it drops its longer lower bill into the water. By doing so, it is able to quickly snap up fish and other crustaceans for a meal. During the dry season in Manu, the black skimmer nests along beaches and sandbars. The black skimmer is one of only three species of skimmers that exist.
The hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), pronounced as "watson," is an unusual chicken-sized bird that has a remarkable capacity to digest fiber. This bird has red eyes, blue patches of color on its face, and a prominent headdress of long, reddish-brown feathers. It emits a distinct manure-like smell, which has given it the nickname, "the stink bird." The movements of this avian are awkward and clumsy. Therefore, the hoatzin prefers a sedentary life and sits for long periods of time, a strange behavior for a bird. Occasionally, it will move by hopping from branch to branch.
Most plant-eating birds excrete most of the fiber they ingest, but the hoatzin is able to digest 70% of the fiber from its diet of marsh plants. This reddish-brown bird is able to do so by fermenting food it eats with its enormous foregut, which is 50 times larger than its stomach. This special "second" stomach also enables the hoatzin to eat plants containing toxic alkaloids. This avian does not feed often, usually only eating twice a day.
Because of the quirky behavior and morphology of this
bird, the genealogy of the hoatzin is a mystery to many
scientists. Some scientists believe that the hoatzin is
primitive bird, a relative to the Archaeopteryx, an
unusual feathered dinosaur. The two creatures have been
linked because of similar functional claws they have on
their wing joints. Unlike the Archaeopteryx, these claws
eventually disappear in the hoatzin. Other scientists
believe that this bird is more modern and a relative to
|Producer's Journal | The
People of Manu | Flora and
Fauna | History | Conservation
Classroom Resources | Trivia Challenge | Related Links | Screen Saver | About the Film | Manu Credits