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Hoatzin Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit, & Omens)

Hoatzin in Tree

If you’ve never heard of the Hoatzin before, then you are in the enviable position of someone who is about to meet what may be the strangest bird around for the very first time. Truly, discovering the bizarre Hoatzin for the first time is a treat. To begin with, the Hoatzin has several nicknames. It is often referred to be the elegant-sounding title of “stink-bird.” It is apparently called this, unsurprisingly, because it stinks. It has also been called the “reptile-bird.” The reason for that will become apparent later. The Hoatzin is found in the rainforests of the Amazon, where it is a surprisingly common resident. (1)

The Hoatzin looks a bit like a pheasant, or perhaps a Jurassic proto-pheasant. They are large and brown with featherless blue faces, red eyes, long tails, and mohawk-like crests atop their heads. The reptilian aspect of the Hoatzin comes into play when these birds are young. Baby hoatzin are hatched with claws at the tips of their wings. This fact often causes people to liken these birds to dinosaurs. This makes sense, however the claws of the Hoatzin are not a vestigial remnant of a bygone ancestor. Instead, they have a much more mundane explanation. Because Hoatzin nest in trees, often overhanging rivers, their offspring have a tendency to leap from the nest at the sight of danger. Hoatzin chicks are capable of swimming, and can use their unique clawed wings to climb back into their nests once the danger has passed. (2)

It makes a lot of sense to compare “reptile-birds” to dinosaurs, and not simply because of their strange appearance. As a matter of fact, there is a bit of confusion surrounding how the Hoatzin fits onto the avian family tree. The Hoatzin, in fact, belongs to a genus all its own. Hoatzin’s are the only members of “Opisthocomus.” This is Greek for “feathered behind.” Debates are ongoing over where these birds originate from, and whether they can be linked with other genera of birds. Allied by some with the Galliformes– chickens, quails, and similar fowl, a 2015 study seems to indicate that the Hoatzin broke off from other birds evolutionarily over sixty million years ago. With that in mind, the odd appearance of this bird begins to make sense. The Hoatzin is truly one of a kind. (3)

On this page
Hoatzin Symbolism and Meaning
Hoatzin South American Symbolism
Hoatzin Christianity Symbolism
Hoatzin Celtic Symbolism
Hoatzin in Dreams
Hoatzin Encounters and Omens
Hoatzin Mythology and Folklore
Hoatzin Spirit Animal
Hoatzin Totem Animal
Hoatzin Power Animal
Hoatzin Tattoo Meaning

Hoatzin Symbolism and Meaning

The Hoatzin is symbolic of the ancient and forgotten. It is a bird outside of time; considered by many to be a far-removed offshoot of the African turaco species, and by others to be the final branch of an extinct family tree. So, the Hoatzin often represents the prehistoric and bizarre.

The Hoatzin is also the National bird of Guyana. In Guyana, the Hoatzin is frequently referred to as the “Canje Pheasant.” (5) So, the Hoatzin can serve as the symbol of Guyana and the national pride of this South American nation.

The reason that the Hoatzin is referred to as the “stink-bird” is related to its unique diet. The Hoatzin is a so-called “folivore.” This means that the Hoatzin subsists mainly off of the leaves and foliage of plants. This cellulose-heavy plant matter is difficult to breakdown and digest. To handle this, the Hoatzin has a unique stomach with multiple chambers; much like a cow. The process of digesting leaves is a smelly one. The Hoatzin’s meat is said to be foul and undesirable. It is usually only eaten in situations of extreme desperation. Thus, the Hoatzin can represent famine, hunger, or duress.

Hoatzin chicks are best known for their claws. These claws are only present in chicks and disappear as the Hoatzin reaches maturity. Because the Hoatzin uses these claws to escape dangers, the Hoatzin’s chicks represent precociousness, survival, and resilience.

Hoatzin are also said to be gregarious, loud, and territorial birds. They can be interpreted as representing parenthood and protection, extraversion, and communication.

A Hoatzin tattoo may also represent the Theory of Evolution. Modern evolutionary theories suggest that birds are the nearest living relatives of dinosaurs. The Hoatzin adds fuel to this idea with its reptilian features. This unusual bird looks a lot like a living dinosaur itself.

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Hoatzin South American Symbolism

To the people of South America, the Hoatzin represents the nation of Guyana. Additionally, this bird represents the hidden secrets of the rainforest.

Hoatzin Christianity Symbolism

The Hoatzin is only found in the rainforests of the Amazon river and the Orinoco Basin, as such it does not have a particular cultural meaning outside of these regions. Because it is often referred to as the Canje Pheasant, it can also be interpreted as having meanings similar to that of a pheasant. In Christian traditions, pheasants represent faith in God’s blessings.

Hoatzin Celtic Symbolism

In Celtic cultures, birds are considered envoys or guardians of the Otherworld. The Hoatzin’s more bizarre features would especially connect it with the chaotic wildness of the supernatural Otherworld.

Hoatzin in Dreams

Dreaming of a Hoatzin can provide a number of messages, warnings, and pieces of guidance. This unusual animal is such an unforgettable visitor that it could make any dream feel memorable.

Dreaming of a Hoatzin can indicate a long forgotten message or goal. Because the Hoatzin is the only bird of its ancient genus, it can remind us to search our past for answers.

Dreaming of a Hoatzin chick can indicate that you are more prepared than you realize for the challenges ahead. Although you may fall, have faith that you have the tools necessary to claw your way up again.

If you experience a dream in which you eat a Hoatzin, it indicates dire times ahead. Hoatzin meat is said to be extremely unpalatable and is only consumed in times of great desperation. Dreaming of eating a Hoatzin may be a warning that such desperate times are coming.

Hoatzin Encounters and Omens

Encountering a Hoatzin is surely an unforgettable experience. From the unbelievable appearance of the Hoatzin to its notorious odor, a Hoatzin encounter is a sign that simply cannot be ignored.

Photo by Hbieser on Pixabay

A Hoatzin encounter is often a sign that things are not as they appear. The Hoatzin’s unusual smell and dinosaur-like appearance bely its outgoing, sociable, and protective nature. Though the accompanying smell of the Hoatzin may make an encounter with one feel like a negative sign, but the Hoatzin is a beautiful animal with endless wisdom to share.

Encountering a Hoatzin may be a sign that you need to approach your problems from a new angle. Due to its unusual and weighty digestive system, the Hoatzin is ungainly and clumsy when flying. They are, however, capable of swimming underwater and climbing even as young chicks. If you encounter an impossible problem, the solution may be to try getting out of your comfort zone. The Hoatzin reminds us not to dwell on what we think we ought to be good at, but to instead experiment and discover our own talents.

Hoatzin in Mythology & Folklore

The Hoatzin does not appear in any particular myths or stories, however it can be connected to the Phoenix. Because of its unique rufous colors, long tail and crest, and reptilian appearance, the Hoatzin is thought by many to resemble the mythological phoenix.

The phoenix is a brilliantly colored bird with feathers of crimson, gold, and other vibrant fiery shades. This beautiful bird is often depicted as resembling a large bird of prey, such as an eagle. The phoenix lives for 1,000 years before either withering away or bursting into flames depending on the version of the story. In the end, all that is left of the phoenix is ash. Miraculously, though, from those ashes, a new phoenix is born, continuing a cycle that will repeat for all eternity. To read more about the mythology of this incredible bird, check out our article on phoenix symbolism.

Hoatzin Spirit Animal

If your spirit animal is the incomparable Hoatzin then it is likely that you are an eccentric type of individual. Unafraid to speak their minds, people with the Hoatzin as their spirit animal are boisterous and extraverted. They are also protective and tend to have an extremely strong sense of family. Hoatzin are very defensive of their nesting sites, their offspring, and their mates.

People with the Hoatzin as their spirit animal tend to be incredibly self-sufficient. They feel more comfortable making their own mistakes than trusting the advice of others. As parents, they prefer to allow their children to test their own abilities rather than eliminating obstacles for them. This tendency is sometimes at odds with their more protective instincts.

People with the Hoatzin spirit animal are extremely passionate. They may find that they become excessively absorbed in their interests and hobbies, however their dedication to their loved ones always comes first.

Although they are extraverted, people with the Hoatzin spirit animal may inadvertently drive others away. Like the foul-smelling Hoatzin, these individuals tend not to hold anything back. Thus, their less personable traits may drive off potential friends and relationships. Those who stick around will find people with this spirit animal to be loving and kind.

Hoatzin Totem Animal

The Hoatzin totem animal is connected with age, wisdom, and hidden things. People with the Hoatzin as their totem animal may be drawn towards antiques and old things. They may consider themselves to be “old souls.”

If the Hoatzin is your totem animal then storytelling may feel like a natural calling for you. You enjoy sharing the traditions passed onto you by your elders.

People with the Hoatzin totem animal may struggle with change. They are unlikely to easily change their behaviors when confronted with something new. Fortunately, though, the Hoatzin totem comes with an especially creative mind. The Hoatzin totem allows for those who invoke it to think through anything that comes their way.

Hoatzin Power Animal

The power associated with the Hoatzin is mysterious and fluid. The Hoatzin power animal brings hidden strengths. People with the Hoatzin as their power animal may struggle to fit in or find their purpose in life. The true strength of the Hoatzin power animal appears when you stop trying to fit in and start exploring unique innate talents.

Individuals with the Hoatzin power animal tend to come into their own when they explore their interests and passions. For someone with this power animal, these interests may come from unexpected places. The Hoatzin power animal gives those who invoke it an enterprising spirit and a taste for the unusual.

People with the Hoatzin power animal may struggle with getting out of their comfort zones, however this is the only way that they can truly discover their full potential. People with the Hoatzin power animal bloom when surrounded by others who push them to try new things.

Hoatzin Tattoo Meaning

A Hoatzin tattoo is certainly an unconventional choice. This bird’s unique qualities mean that such a tattoo is a meaningful and deliberate choice.

One possible meaning of a Hoatzin tattoo is a connection to the nation of Guyana. Because the Hoatzin is a national symbol for Guyana, a Hoatzin tattoo may represent love for Guyana or Guyanese pride.

Additionally, a Hoatzin tattoo may represent eccentricity. People who choose this tattoo may feel that they do not fit in easily with others, but that their less conventional traits make them special.

Finally, a Hoatzin tattoo may represent evolution. The changes that allow a person to mature into the version of their self that they’re meant to be can be a major source of pride. The dinosaur-like Hoatzin can represent this beautifully.


The “stink-bird” certainly does not sound like an animal that one would describe as gorgeous or inspiring. The Hoatzin defies expectations. This magnificent creature is among the strangest animals on the planet, but its many unique traits only serve to add to its undeniable majesty.

If you feel a connection to this unusual bird, you may feel inspired by its ability to claw its way up and out of any circumstance. If this birds’ reptilian appearance is a source of fascination to you, then you may feel a connection to the earth’s long-gone past through the Hoatzin.

The Hoatzin’s beauty is inextricable from its strangeness. But it is that same strangeness that gives the Hoatzin its survival skills. Those claws allow Hoatzin chicks to climb. Hoatzin’s can swim with ease. The Hoatzin is, perhaps above all else, proof that life will always find a way.

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