Boat-Billed Herons (Cochlearius cochlearius)
(Photo credit: Jack Bradley, one of our docents and a fabulous photographer!)
Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo recently welcomed two new family members to the Rainforest Building: a pair of Boat-Billed Herons. The male and female herons are named Burt and Loni. They have taken up residence in the New World’s Tropics habitat. Burt is approximately six years old; Loni is approximately three years old.
Boat-Billed Herons, commonly known as “boatbills,” are named for their oddly shaped bill that resembles an overturned rowboat.
Boat-Billed Herons commonly leave their nests after sundown to feed during the night. Interestingly, it has been observed that they do not feed when a light source is present, such as daylight, moonlight or artificial light.
Boat-Billed Herons have plumage that is pale grey to white in color, with chestnut colored abdomens and black flanks. They are a stocky, medium-sized bird. Boat-billed herons have shorter legs and squatter bodies than most other heron species. They also have large, dark eyes that help in foraging for food in the dark.
Their bills are primarily black and they are as wide as their heads. Their bill is also very sensitive, allowing them to feel out prey in murky water.
The birds are approximately 20 inches long; they weigh a little over a pound. They have a wingspan of 30 inches.
Boat-Billed Herons have specialized downy feathers that don’t molt and that grow continuously throughout the bird’s life. The ends break off as a powder that the bird then uses while preening to waterproof its other feathers.
The male Boat-Billed Heron is slightly larger than the female and has a longer occipital plume than the female.
Their calls include a high-pitched “pee-pee-pee” and deep croaks. They also use bill-pops that sound like hands clapping.
They typically live in the marshes, seasonal lagoons and estuaries of tropical rainforests. They nest in mangrove swamps.
Found in the wild in Southern Mexico and throughout Central and South America.
Carnivore. They eat fish, shrimp and insects, small mammals and amphibians.
Boat-Billed Herons are normally solitary, only gathering to mate. They are monogamous during the breeding season and possibly beyond. The Boat-Billed Heron’s breeding season is during the local wet season, which varies across their range.
Nests are a flat platform made of sticks, with leafy branches and are often reused from year to year. The female lays 2 to 4 eggs and both parents incubate them for 21 to 26 days. Chicks are altricial when they hatched, meaning they are completely dependent on their parents. They are blind and covered in pale downy feathers when they hatch. Both parents feed them over the course of six to eight weeks, after which they fly away. Both parents take care of the young and defend the nest.
While there is no definitive knowledge of the lifespan of Boat-Billed Herons, they are believed to have lifespans similar to those of their relatives, such as Black Crowned Night herons, ranging from 10-15 years.