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Nyctibiidae

Great Potoo Nyctibius grandi ©James Lowen Website

The Nyctibiidae or Potoos are a group of near passerine birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths. They are sometimes called poor-me-ones, after their haunting calls. There are seven species in one genus, Nyctibius, in tropical Central and South America.

They are nocturnal insectivores which lack the bristles around the mouth found in the true nightjars. They hunt from a perch like a shrike or flycatcher. During the day they perch upright on tree stumps, camouflaged to look like part of the stump. The single spotted egg is laid directly on the top of a stump.

The potoos are a highly conservative family in appearance, with all the species closely resembling one another; species accounts in ornithological literature remark on their unusual appearance. They range from 21cm to 58cm in length. They resemble upright sitting nightjars, a closely related order (Caprimulgiformes). They also resemble the frogmouths of Australasia, that are stockier and have much heavier bills. They have proportionally large heads for their body size and long wings and tails. The large head is dominated by a massive broad bill and enormous eyes. In the treatment of the family in the Handbook of the Birds of the World, Cohn-Haft describes the potoos as little more than a flying mouth and eyes. The bill, while large and broad, is also short, barely projecting past the face. It is delicate, but has a unique 'tooth' on the cutting edge of the upper mandible that may assist in foraging. Unlike the closely related nightjars, the potoos lack rictal bristles around the mouth. The legs and feet are weak and used only for perching.

Their eyes are large, even larger than those of nightjars. As in many species of nocturnal birds, they reflect the light of flashlights. Their eyes, which could be conspicuous to potential predators during the day, have unusual slits in the lids, which allow potoos to sense movement even when their eyes are closed. Their plumage is cryptic, helping them blend into the branches on which they spend their days.

They have a Neotropical distribution. They range from Mexico to Argentina, with the greatest diversity occurring in the Amazon Basin, which holds five species. They are found in every Central and South American country except Chile. They also occur on three Caribbean islands: Jamaica, Hispaniola and Tobago. They are generally highly sedentary, although there are occasional reports of vagrants, particularly species that have travelled on ships. All species occur in humid forests, although a few species also occur in drier forests.

They are highly nocturnal and generally do not fly during the day. They spend the day perched on branches with the eyes half closed. With their cryptic plumage they resemble stumps, and should they detect potential danger they adopt a 'freeze' position which even more closely resembles a broken branch. The transition between perching and the freeze position is gradual and hardly perceptible to the observer.

Species
There are just 7 species of Potoo currently recognised by the IOC; they are:

Great Potoo Nyctibius grandis
Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus
Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis
Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus
Andean Potoo Nyctibius maculosus
White-winged Potoo Nyctibius leucopterus
Rufous Potoo Nyctibius bracteatus

Family Links

Potoos Nyctibiidae

Family Account

List of all related families with species…

Potoos Nyctibiidae

IBC Family Account

List etc…

Potoos Nyctibiidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Potoos Nyctibiidae

Family Account

The nocturnal Potoos are entirely restricted to the Neotropics, with seven species in one genus (Nyctibius). Three species are widespread but four are local and highly desired by birders.

Species Links

Andean Potoo Nyctibius maculosus

Species Account

The Andean potoo (Nyctibius maculosus) is a species of bird in the Nyctibiidae family. It is found in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Andean Potoo Nyctibius maculosus

Cornell Species Account

A typical potoo, Andean Potoo is a large dark brown species, with white markings in the tail and wings; particularly prominenet is a large white panel in the wing coverts, which is buffish white in females.

Andean Potoo Nyctibius maculosus

BirdLife Species Account

Andean Potoo Nyctibius maculosus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Nyctibius maculosus Ridgway, 1912, Ambato, Ecuador. Two recent studies found that this species, N. griseus and N. leucopterus were closely related. Present species was for some time considered a race of N. leucopterus, which differs, however, in size, plumage, voice, and elevational distribution; may be closer to N. griseus. Monotypic.

Andean Potoo Nyctibius maculosus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus

IBC Species Account

Full species account…

Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus

Species Account

The common potoo, grey potoo, lesser potoo or poor-me-one (Nyctibius griseus), is a nocturnal bird which breeds in tropical Central and South America from Nicaragua to northern Argentina and northern Uruguay.

Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus

Cornell Species Account

Common Potoo is a large nocturnal bird of lowland forests and forest edges of southern Central America and the lowlands of northern and central South America.

Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus

HBW Species Account

Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus

BirdLife Species Account

Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Great Potoo Nyctibius grandis

Species Account

The great potoo (Nyctibius grandis) is a near passerine bird, both the largest potoo species and the largest member of the order Caprimulgiformes (nightjars and allies). They are also one of seven species in one genus, Nyctibius, located in tropical America.

Great Potoo Nyctibius grandis

Cornell Species Account

With its characteristic drawn-out moaning growl, the vocalizations of the Great Potoo are among the most exciting and perhaps most unsettling nocturnal sounds in the Neotropics.

Great Potoo Nyctibius grandis

BirdLife Species Account

Great Potoo Nyctibius grandis

HBW Species Account

Great Potoo Nyctibius grandis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus

Species Account

The long-tailed potoo (Nyctibius aethereus) is a species of bird in the Nyctibiidae family. It is found in Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay; also in Argentina in the extreme northeast. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus

Cornell Species Account

This large and proportionately long-tailed potoo species is rarely seen. Long-tailed Potoo has a somewhat disjunct and patchy distribution, being found very locally in western Colombia; across much of Amazonia, north to eastern Venezuela and the Guianas; and again in the Atlantic Forest region of eastern South America; each of these three regions is occupied by a different subspecies.

Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus

HBW Species Account

Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus

BirdLife Species Account

Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis

Species Account

The northern potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis) is a nocturnal bird belonging to the potoo family, Nyctibiidae. It is found from Mexico south to Costa Rica and on the islands of Jamaica and Hispaniola. It was formerly classified as a subspecies of the common potoo (Nyctibius griseus) but is now usually treated as a separate species based on differences in vocalizations.

Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis

Cornell Species Account

The northernmost representative of the potoos, Northern Potoo occurs on both slopes of Central America, from northern Mexico south to northwestern Costa Rica; there also are disjunct populations on Jamaica and Hispaniola, attesting to the strong flight capabilities of this large bird.

Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis

BirdLife Species Account

Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Caprimulgus jamaicensis J. F. Gmelin, 1789, Jamaica.

Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Rufous Potoo Nyctibius bracteatus

Species Account

The rufous potoo (Nyctibius bracteatus)[2] is a species of bird in the Nyctibiidae family. Its common name refers to its rufous, or reddish-brown color. Their species name bracteatus is Latin for "gold-leaf".

Rufous Potoo Nyctibius bracteatus

Cornell Species Account

Despite its very striking plumage, deep rufous with bold white spotting over the scapulars and the underparts, this small potoo is extremely difficult to spot, without very detailed knowledge of where an individual is roosting.

Rufous Potoo Nyctibius bracteatus

BirdLife Species Account

Rufous Potoo Nyctibius bracteatus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Nyctibius bracteatus Gould, 1846, Bogotá, Colombia. Recent study suggested that this species differs from other Nyctibius in cranial morphology to such an extent that it should be placed in its own genus. Monotypic.

Rufous Potoo Nyctibius bracteatus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-winged Potoo Nyctibius leucopterus

Cornell Species Account

White-winged Potoo is a poorly known, patchily distributed species of Amazonia. It appears to favor shorter forests on nutrient poor soils particularly white-sand forest

White-winged Potoo Nyctibius leucopterus

BirdLife Species Account

White-winged Potoo Nyctibius leucopterus

Species Account

The white-winged potoo (Nyctibius leucopterus) is a species of bird in the Nyctibiidae family, the potoos. It is found in Roraima and Amazonas, Brazil and Guyana in the Amazon Basin; also localised populations in Peru and French Guiana.

White-winged Potoo Nyctibius leucopterus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Caprimulgus leucopterus Wied, 1821, near Conquista, Bahia, Brazil.

White-winged Potoo Nyctibius leucopterus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 7

Useful Reading

Nightjars

A Guide to the Nightjars and Related Nightbirds by Nigel Cleere and Dave Nurney Pica Press 1998

ISBN: 1873403488

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Photographers & Artists

Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis

Gallery

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