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Boat-billed Heron or Boatbill
Cochlearius cochlearius

Pelecaniformes Order - Ardeidae Family  

Length:46-53 cm
Wingspan: 76 cm
Weight: 600g

Boat-billed Heron or Boatbill is a stocky nocturnal heron with very large beak.
Boatbill adult has pale grey upperparts with a broad blackish band across the upper mantle. Flight feathers are grey.
Throat is white. Neck is pale pinkish-buff. Underparts from lower breast to vent are dark pinkish-buff. Flanks are black. Short legs and feet are greenish-yellow.

Boatbill lives in mangroves, freshwater marshes, wooded swamps, shores of lakes and rivers, ponds and streams in wet forest. It may be found from sea level to 800 to 2600 metres of elevation.

RANGE: Boatbill lives from Mexico to Bolivia and Northern Argentina.

Boatbill is a nocturnal heron. It is solitary feeder at night. It hunts by stabbing preys, or walking slowly in shallow waters. It may run to catch a prey. Large broad bill is used as a spoon, to catch motionless preys. This bill seems to be very sensitive, and it opens at the merest touch. While feeding, Boatbill often utters a frog-like croak.

During the day, Boatbill is perched in trees, among dense foliage in the mangrove. Boatbill is a non migratory bird.

During the breeding season, Boatbill performs bill-clapping and preening displays while it gives vocal signals. Postures and movements performed during courtship displays are simple and slow. Males often erect and lower their broad crown feathers contrasting strongly with the white forehead. This display is very spectacular. Both sexes clatter vigorously their beaks.
Boatbills are monogamous. Pair may form only for one season, or longer. This species copulates outside the nest, and differs from the other heron species in this behaviour. Breeding time occurs in the rainy season.
To waterproof its feathers, Boatbill has powder down, a kind of feathers that never moult out and grow continuously. So, tips gradually crumble into powder, and the bird spreads this powder over feathers by preening.   

Boatbill has powerful flight, using slow, shallow wing beats. Boatbill keeps the weight of its heavy bill close to its centre of gravity, drawing the neck into an S with the back of the head at the base of the neck over shoulders. They do not soar.

Boatbill nests in trees close to the water, in bushes and occasionally in reedbeds. In trees, the nest is situated at about 10 metres above the ground. It is a shallow stick nest, built by both male and female. It nests alone or in small colony including other species of water birds.

Fr: Savacou huppé 
All : Kahnschnabel
Esp : Martinete cucharón
Ital : Becco a cucchiaio
Nd : Schuitbekreiger   


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Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105

L’ENCYCLOPEDIE MONDIALE DES OISEAUX - Dr Christopher M. Perrins -  BORDAS - ISBN: 2040185607

A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF MEXICO AND NORTHERN CENTRAL AMERICA by  Steve N. G. Howell, Sophie Webb - Oxford University Press - ISBN: 0198540124

A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF COLOMBIA by Steven L. Hilty and William L. Brown
Princeton University Press – ISBN 069108372X

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It has black crown and nape. Head presents long black crest. Forehead is white. Face is creamy to pale pinkish-buff. Large eyes are dark brown and lores are greyish.
Bill is remarkably broad and heavy, with about 7, 5 cm long and 5 cm wide. It is blackish or grey on upper mandible, and yellow on lower mandible. This heron has a bare gular pouch.

Both sexes are similar.
Juvenile has less developed crest. Belly is paler than in adults. It needs three moults to get its adult plumage.

Boatbill utters a low, accelerating clucking “cu-cu-cu-cu-kah” at roosts and colonies. We can also hear a laughing “ah-ah-ah-ah-cu-ah”, and a high-pitched “pee-pee-pee”. It is usually silent in flight and at dusk.
Large bill serves as a resonator, and may produce single and multiple bill-pops resembling handclaps.

Female lays 3 to 4 pale greenish-blue eggs, finely spotted with red. They are laid at two-day intervals. Incubation lasts about 23 to 28 days, by both parents. It starts with the first egg laid. Hatches are asynchronous. Altricial chicks are fed by regurgitation by both adults. Sometimes, the youngest chick starves when parents are not able to provide abundant food. Both adults protect the nest against intruders. Nesting period lasts about 6 to 8 weeks.
This species produces only one brood per season, but if food resources are abundant, it may produce a second clutch during the dry season, according to the area where it is living.

Boatbill feeds mainly on fish, shrimps and insects, but also on amphibians and small mammals.

Boatbill has some predators such as foxes and snakes, and humans. This species is fairly common in its range.