The seven-story Orinoco Secrets of the River exhibit highlights the unique bio-diversity of this important South American rainforest ecosystem.


Sunbittern, Eurypyga helias

Another relative of cranes and rails, this Central and South American forest bird is not related to true bitterns, which are herons. When alarmed, it spreads its brilliantly colored wings, completely transforming its appearance. It was first bred in captivity more than 140 years ago, at the London Zoo, and has bred in many places since, including the DWA.

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Grey-winged trumpeter

Grey-winged trumpeter, Psophia creptitans

Distant relative of cranes, rails, and bustards, trumpeters are found only in the forests of South America. They are named for their complex vocalizations, which sometimes sound if they are producing several sounds at the same time. Though capable of flight, they are usually on the forest floor. Much of the food is fruit that falls out of trees, and they are often beneath troops of monkeys, waiting for the fruit they drop.

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Emerald toucanet

Emerald toucanet, Aulacorrhynchus prasinus

This is the northernmost member of the toucan family, found from the mountain forests of the Central Mexican states of San Louis Potosi and Veracruz, south to the Yucatan Peninsula and Northern Guatemala. Although not thought to be in immediate danger, its habitat shrinks as highland forests continue to be cut down. It was called Xochitenacaltototl by the Aztecs, who received a tribute of living specimens every year from Mexico’s Gulf Coast. It has reproduced in several collections, including the DWA.

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Red-breasted toucan

Red-breasted toucan, Ramphastos dicolorus

Found in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, this species remains fairly common despite continuing habitat loss and some hunting pressure (toucans are eaten by people in some places). Though presently rare in collections, it was the first of the Ramphastos toucans bred in captivity, in Germany in 1967. It has also set the age record for any member of its family, one having lived 27 years, and another possibly 32 years. The DWA specimens arrived through the cooperation of the Brazilian Federal wildlife agency, IBAMA.

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Blue-crowned motmot

Blue-crowned motmot, Momotus momota

Found from Mexico to Argentina, this brilliantly-colored kingfisher relative is the only one of the nine members of the Tropical American motmot family to be widely kept in zoos, where many have bred. Eggs are laid in burrows dug in the earth. The remarkable pendulum-like tail develops normally at first, but parts of two feathers are shed as they develop, resulting in “racquets”. The strange name may be derived from this bird’s whooping calls.

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Troupial, Icterus icterus

The National Bird of Venezuela, this South American oriole has been a prized cage bird for more than 150 years. The painter, Henri Mattise, included one in his collection of tropical birds that he kept to “tune his colors”. They are sometimes known as “Bugle Birds” for their piercing, melodious voices. Chicks have hatched at the DWA.

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Pompadour cotinga

Pompadour cotinga, Xipholena punicea

Depending on the light, males may appear black, bright red, pink, or purple. Research conducted at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, with the assistance of the DWA, has established that this species’ color is due to unique carotenoid pigments previously unknown in birds.

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Guira cuckoo

Guira cuckoo, Guira guira

Before the 1990s, this small Southern South American relative of the roadrunner was rare in captivity. In the last 15 years, many have been bred in US zoos. Zoo-bred specimens, like all the Guiras at the DWA, can be delightfully tame. Some may follow visitors as they walk through the Orinoco.

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Capuchinbird, Perissocephalus tricolor

This strange bird, with its bald head and huge dark eyes, is also known as the Calf bird, because of its remarkably loud deep call. Like the Cock-of-the-rock, it is a member of the Cotinga family, found only in Tropical America. Its range is defined by the intersection of three rivers: Amazon, Orinoco, and Rio Negro. Though first taken into captivity nearly 60 years ago, it has always been a treasured rarity in zoos. Until the DWA achieved multiple successes in 2011, the only full captive breedings had been at San Diego Zoo, in the 1990s.

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Andean cock-of-the-Rock

Andean cock-of-the-Rock, Rupicola peruvianus

Every year since 2007, this remarkable bird has reproduced at the DWA. Through May 2011, 40 had hatched here, with 26 surviving to independence. Prior to this time, the total number successfully reared in US zoos were four at Houston and one at San Diego, with the last hatching occurring in 1989. Offspring from the DWA have been sent around the world, and the first second generation breedings took place at the San Diego Zoo in 2011, with males from Dallas. While performing their courtship display, males make buzzing shrieks that can be heard throughout the Orinoco. Nesting takes place in specially built artificial caves.

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