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Boat-billed Herons in Rio Dulce PDF Print
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Boat-billed Herons Checking Out the Photographer
August 5, 2017
by Jody Aston, Editor and Publisher

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Tuxtla Statuette. Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
At dusk or early in the morning, if you go to the mangroves around Rio Dulce, you may be lucky enough to spot an odd and beautiful bird, the Boat-billed Heron. They tend to be a bit shy, avoiding human contact, but if you are quiet and patient, they will ignore you and continue foraging. 

The 'odd' factor is their wide, flat bill that looks like the flipped-over keel of a boat. It is so black on top that it often looks navy blue, and is yellowish underneath. They crouch in a hump-backed position on lower branches and mangrove roots, or sometimes wade, in shallow water. They lunge at small fish, frogs, shrimp, crabs, insects, etc., for food. Their strange bills are used for scooping along the surface of the water, instead of spearing their prey, as do other herons.

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Drawing of the Tuxtla Statuette Details by ‘Madman2001.’ January 2008
One of the most famous pre-Mayan, late Olmec, artifacts discovered in Mexico is a combination of one of these magnificent birds and a man. It is believed to be a shaman wearing a Boat-billed Heron mask and cape. It is called the Tuxtla Statuette (if interested, more information can be found on Wikipedia here and by Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth, here ).

Boat-billed Herons sound very much like lower-toned quacking ducks. They also communicate with a popping sound, as they clap their bills together. (Click “Read more…” below the lower photo for more photos and rio locations for viewing).

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Their beauty is in the long, black crest, huge dark bulbous eyes, which explain their excellent night vision, and the muted grey and ruffous color of their plumes. A great place to view them is on the elevated wooden walkway through the mangroves at Tortugal. Although not first-hand knowledge, it's almost certain you could also see them around Tijax, Catamaran, and probably Monkey Bay marinas.

We would be interested in hearing feedback on any sightings!

Another good source of information and researched for this article is Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), Neotropical Birds Online (T.S. Schulenberg, Editor. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology here.

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Long Crest on a Male Boat-billed Heron
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Perched and Ready to Pounce on Prey
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Either a Female or Immature - Both Have Shorter Crests
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Badly Beaten-up Bill
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