Boat-billed heron

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Boat-billed heron
Cochlearius cochleariaPCCA20071227-8443B.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Cochlearius
Brisson, 1760
C. cochlearius
Binomial name
Cochlearius cochlearius
(Linnaeus, 1766)
Cochlearius cochlearius map.svg
  • Cancroma cochlearia Linnaeus, 1766
  • Cancroma cancrophaga Linnaeus, 1766
Boat-billed heron at ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Along the Tarcoles River, Costa Rica

The boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), colloquially known as the boatbill, is an atypical member of the heron family, and was formerly placed in a monotypic family, the Cochleariidae. It lives in mangrove swamps from Mexico south to Peru and Brazil. It is a nocturnal bird, and breeds semicolonially in mangrove trees, laying two to four bluish-white eggs in a twig nest.


In 1760 the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson included a description of the boat-billed heron in his Ornithologie based on a specimen collected in French Guiana. He used the French name La Cuillière and the Latin Cochlearius.[2] Brisson placed the species in a new genus Cochlearius (with the same name as that of the species).[3] When in 1766 the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus updated his Systema Naturae for the twelfth edition, he added 240 species that had been previously described by Brisson.[4] One of these was the boat-billed heron. Linnaeus included a brief description, coined the binomial name Cancroma cochlearia and cited Brisson's work.[5]

Although Brisson coined Latin names, these do not conform to the binomial system and are not recognised by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN).[4] However, Brisson also introduced names for genera and these are accepted by the ICZN.[6][7][8] The boat-billed heron is now placed in Brisson's genus and has the tautonym Cochlearius cochlearius.[9] The name Cochlearius is from the Latin cocleare, coclearis or cochlearium for a "spoon in the form of a snail shell".[10]

There are five subspecies:[9]

  • C. c. zeledoni (Ridgway, 1885) – west Mexico
  • C. c. phillipsi Dickerman, 1973 – east Mexico, Belize
  • C. c. ridgwayi Dickerman, 1973 – south Mexico to Honduras
  • C. c. panamensis Griscom, 1926 – Costa Rica and Panama
  • C. c. cochlearius (Linnaeus, 1766) – north and central South America


The boat-billed heron grows to about 54 cm (21 in) long. Adults are pale grey to white in color, with chestnut-colored abdomens and black flanks. The massive, broad, scoop-like bill, which gives rise to this species' name, is mainly black. This bird is also adorned with a crest which is thought to be used in mate attraction as it is larger in males. The sexes are similar in appearance, the main differences being that females are slightly smaller, grayer in appearance, and have shorter crests than males.[11] Newly hatched nestlings have green-yellow skin, with their upperparts covered in gray down feathers. Their upper bill is black and they have green-yellow legs. Juveniles are darker in color than adults and lack a crest.[12]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Boat-billed herons range from Mexico to Peru, Brazil, and northeastern Argentina.[13] They are nonmigratory birds that tend to live in seasonal lagoons and estuaries, and nest in mangroves.[14][15]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]


Boat-billed herons breed during the rainy season and have been recorded as producing two clutches during this time, laying their first clutch in February during the end of the dry season.[13] Their clutch sizes range from two to four eggs, with more eggs being laid during the first nesting period than the second.[16] They usually nest in colonies, but have been observed nesting solitarily. Human disturbance can lead to a decrease in reproductive success, as herons tend to avoid human contact and will abandon nests if necessary.[16]

Food and feeding[edit]

Boat-billed herons feed on shrimp and small fish such as Dormitator latifrons, a species of sleeper goby.[14][17] They tend to forage in vegetative streams, shallow water, and lagoons. When foraging in streams, they use low-hanging branches and mangrove roots to stand over the water. In ponds they will walk slowly through the water up to 10 cm (4 in) deep or will forage near the water's edge.[14] In order to capture prey they will lunge at fish or scoop the surface of the water with their bills which are uniquely shaped for this method of capture.[14] Additionally, they have been observed using two different feeding techniques; standing and slowly stalking prey, or disturbing the water and chasing prey.[17] Boat-billed herons will forage nocturnally, and have been seen leaving the roost 30 minutes after sundown to feed. It has been observed that they do not feed when a light source is present such as daylight, moonlight, or artificial light.[15][14] One study hypothesized that in order to forage for food in the dark and in shallow, muddy water, their bills are sensitive to touch which helps them feel for their prey.[15]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Cochlearius cochlearius". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22697250A130187930. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22697250A130187930.en. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  2. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Vol. 5. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. pp. 506–508. The two stars (**) at the start of the section indicates that Brisson based his description on the examination of a specimen.
  3. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode Contenant la Division des Oiseaux en Ordres, Sections, Genres, Especes & leurs Variétés (in French and Latin). Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1, p. 48, Vol. 5, p. 506.
  4. ^ a b Allen, J.A. (1910). "Collation of Brisson's genera of birds with those of Linnaeus". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 28: 317–335. hdl:2246/678.
  5. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1766). Systema naturae : per regna tria natura, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1, Part 1 (12th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 233.
  6. ^ Hemming, Francis, ed. (1958) [1911]. "Opinion 37: Shall the genera of Brisson's "Ornithologia," 1760, be accepted". Opinions and Declarations Rendered by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. Vol. 1 Section B. London: International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature. pp. 87–88.
  7. ^ Hemming, Francis (1962). "Brisson, 1760 "Ornithologie" Proposed restriction on validation granted under the plenary powers to certain portions of that work Z.N.(S.) 702". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 19 (1): 9–14.
  8. ^ China, W.E. (1963). "Direction 105: Brisson, 1760, Ornithologie: restriction to certain portions of that work of the validation granted under the Plenary Powers". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 20 (5): 343–344.
  9. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Storks, ibis, herons". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  10. ^ Jobling, J.A. (2019). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). "Key to Scientific Names in Ornithology". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  11. ^ Rand, A. L. (April 1966). "A Display of the Boat-Billed Heron, Cochlearius cochlearius". The Auk. 83 (2): 304–306. doi:10.2307/4083025. JSTOR 4083025.
  12. ^ Haverschmidt, F. (January 1969). "Notes on the Boat-Billed Heron in Surinam". The Auk. 86 (1): 130–131. doi:10.2307/4083548. JSTOR 4083548.
  13. ^ a b Gomez, Jaime; Gil-Delgado, Jose A.; Monros, Juan S. (August 2001). "Double-Brooding in the Boat-Billed Heron". Waterbirds: The International Journal of Waterbird Biology. 24 (2): 282. doi:10.2307/1522043. JSTOR 1522043.
  14. ^ a b c d e Kushlan, James A. (September 2009). "Feeding Repertoire of the Boat-Billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius)". Waterbirds. 32 (3): 408–414. doi:10.1675/063.032.0305.
  15. ^ a b c Mock, Douglas W. (1975). "Feeding Methods of the Boat-Billed Heron, a Deductive Hypothesis". Auk. 92 (3): 590–592.
  16. ^ a b Gómez, J; Gil-Delgado, JA; Monrós, JS (December 2006). "Breeding success of a colony of Boat-billed Herons Cochlearius cochlearius (Ciconiiformes: Ardeidae) in pasturelands of Costa Rica". Revista de Biología Tropical. 54 (4): 1131–4. PMID 18457150.
  17. ^ a b Biderman, John O.; Dickerman, Robert W. (March 1978). "Feeding Behavior and Food Habits of the Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius)". Biotropica. 10 (1): 33. doi:10.2307/2388102. JSTOR 2388102.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hilty, Steven L (2003). Birds of Venezuela. London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 978-0-7136-6418-8.
  • ffrench, Richard (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago (2nd ed.). Comstock Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8014-9792-6.
  • A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles and Skutch ISBN 0-8014-9600-4

External links[edit]