In 2020 we welcomed three Honduran boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius ridgwayi) chicks to the Emerald Forest Aviary and one to the River Valley Aviary. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens started housing boat-billed herons in 1990 and has had many years of successful breeding since then.
This bizarre-looking heron is known for its odd-shaped bill that resembles the hull of a boat. They’re also recognizable by their large, dark eyes that help them hunt at night. Boat-billed herons forage for food along the water’s edge, feeding on fish, crustaceans, insects, and amphibians. Staying close to their food source, they live on the margins of freshwater rivers, lakes, marshes, and mangrove swamps. Their habitat ranges from southern Mexico to Central and South America.
Boatbills are normally solitary and usually only gather to mate. Males and females will display their long, black crest when attracting mates or intimidating rivals. Their breeding season is during the local wet season, which varies across their range.
Chicks are “altricial” when hatched, meaning they’re completely dependent on their parents. Both parents contribute to rearing the chicks by means of incubation, feeding, and defending the nest. Females will typically lay two to four eggs in a clutch. The eggs are incubated for 21 to 26 days (about 3 and a half weeks). Once hatched, the parents will feed the chicks over the course of six to eight weeks until they are ready to fledge. The chicks develop fast—within two weeks they start to adventure around the nest with great agility.