Aegothelidae – Owlet-nightjars

Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus ©Ron Knight Website

The Aegothelidae or Owlet-nightjars are small crepuscular birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths; they are an exclusively Australasian group. Most are native to New Guinea, but some species extend to Australia, the Moluccas, and New Caledonia. The monotypic family has one genus Aegotheles.

Owlet-nightjars are insectivores that hunt mostly in the air but sometimes on the ground; their soft plumage is a cryptic mixture of browns and paler shades, they have fairly small, weak feet (but larger and stronger than those of frogmouths or nightjars) and a tiny bill that opens extraordinarily wide, surrounded by prominent whiskers. Their wings are short, with 10 primaries and about 11 secondaries; their tails are long and rounded.

The relationship between the owlet-nightjars and the (traditional) Caprimulgiformes has long been controversial and obscure and remains so today: in the 19th century they were regarded as a subfamily of the frogmouths, and they are still generally considered to be related to the frogmouths and/or the nightjars. It appears though that that they are not so closely related to either as previously thought, and that the owlet-nightjars share a more recent common ancestor with the Apodiformes. It has been suggested that they should be considered a distinct order, Aegotheliformes. This, the caprimulgiform lineage(s), and the Apodiformes, are postulated to form a clade called Cypselomorphae, with the owlet-nightjars and the Apodiformes forming the clade Daedalornithes.

However, a comprehensive 2003 study incorporating DNA sequencing suggests that there are just 9 species of owlet-nightjar; they are set out below.

Species List

Feline Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles insignis
Starry Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles tatei
Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles crinifrons
Wallace’s Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles wallacii
Mountain Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles albertisi
New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles savesi
Barred Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles bennettii
Vogelkop Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles affinis
Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

Species Links
  • Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

    Species Account
    The Australian owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) is a nocturnal bird found in open woodland across Australia and in southern New Guinea.
  • Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species account with taxonomy...
  • Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

    Species Account
    Birds in Backyards species account...
  • Barred Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles bennettii

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Barred Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles bennettii

    Species Account
    The barred owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles bennettii) is a species of bird in the Aegothelidae family. It is found in New Guinea. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests. It has a spotted belly.
  • Barred Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles bennettii

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species account with taxonomy...
  • Barred Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles bennettii

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Barred Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles bennettii

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Feline Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles insignis

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Feline Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles insignis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Feline Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles insignis

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Feline Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles insignis

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species account with video, map etc...
  • Feline Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles insignis

    Species Account
    The feline owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles insignis) is a species of bird in the family Aegothelidae. It is found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.
  • Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles crinifrons

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles crinifrons

    Species Account
    The Moluccan owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles crinifrons), also known as the long-whiskered owlet-nightjar, is a species of bird in the family Aegothelidae. It is endemic to Indonesia.
  • Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles crinifrons

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species account...
  • Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles crinifrons

    Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Moluccan Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles crinifrons

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Mountain Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles albertisi

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Mountain Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles albertisi

    IUCN Species Status
    IUCN species profile...
  • Mountain Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles albertisi

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Mountain Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles albertisi

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species account...
  • Mountain Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles albertisi

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Mountain Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles albertisi

    Species Account
    The mountain owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles albertisi) is a species of bird in the family Aegothelidae. It is found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.
  • New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi

    IUCN Species Status
    IUCN species profile...
  • New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi

    Species Account
    With illustration...
  • New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species account...
  • New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Starry Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles tatei

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Starry Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles tatei

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Starry Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles tatei

    Species Account
    The starry owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles tatei), also known as the spangled owlet-nightjar, is a species of bird in the family Aegothelidae. It is endemic to Papua New Guinea. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests It is threatened by habitat loss.
  • Starry Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles tatei

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Vogelkop Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles affinis

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Vogelkop Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles affinis

    Species Account
    The Vogelkop owlet-nightjar or allied owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles affinis) is a species of bird in the family Aegothelidae. It can be found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It is known from Bird's Head Peninsula and Eastern Highlands Province.
  • Vogelkop Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles affinis

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Vogelkop Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles affinis

    IUCN Species Status
  • Vogelkop Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles affinis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles wallacii

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles wallacii

    Species Account
    The Wallace's owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles wallacii) is a species of bird in the family Aegothelidae. It is found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
  • Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles wallacii

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species account with taxonomy...
  • Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles wallacii

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles wallacii

    IUCN Species Status
  • Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles wallacii

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 9

Useful Reading
  • Nightjars

    | (A Guide to the Nightjars and Related Nightbirds) | By Nigel Cleere & Dave Nurney | Pica Press | 1998 | Hardback | ISBN: 9781873403488 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Nightjars and their Allies

    | By David Holyoak | OUP | 2001 | Hardback | 773 pages, 24 colour plates, b/w illustrations, tables, maps ISBN: 9780198549871 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Nightjars of the World

    | (Potoos, Frogmouths, Oilbird and Owlet-nightjars) | By Nigel Cleere | WILDGuides | 2010 | Hardback | 464 pages, colour photos | 317 pages, 36 colour plates, illustrations, maps ISBN: 9781903657072 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Owls, Frogmouths and Nightjars of Australia

    | By David Hollands | Bloomings Books/Green Book Company | 2008 | Hardback | 336 pages, Colour photos | ISBN: 9781876473648 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Other Links
  • Breeding Biology of Australian Owlet-nightjars

    Article
    Although the Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus is probably the most abundant and one of the most widespread nocturnal birds in Australia, the majority of information published about its ecology, behaviour and especially reproductive biology is anecdotal. Based on six observed nesting attempts, we report data on breeding season, clutch size, incubation and brooding behaviour, nestling growth rates, fledging success, fledgling behaviour and roost site use for a population breeding near Armidale, New South Wales, during 1996–97....
  • New Zealand Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles novazelandiae

    Fossil Species Account
    The New Zealand owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles novazelandiae) was a large species of owlet-nightjar (family Aegothelidae) formerly endemic to the islands of New Zealand. Fossil remains (which are common in the pellets of the extinct laughing owl) indicate the species was once widespread across both the North Island and the South Island. Despite a small number of reports of small owls being found in the 19th century that may have been New Zealand owlet-nightjars, the species is thought to have become extinct around 1200 AD.
  • Phylogeny of the owlet-nightjars

    Article
    The avian family Aegothelidae (Owlet-nightjars) comprises nine extant species and one extinct species, all of which are currently classified in a single genus, Aegotheles. Owlet-nightjars are secretive nocturnal birds of the South Pacific. They are relatively poorly studied and some species are known from only a few specimens...
Photographers & Artists
  • Australian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

    Video
    Filmed at Rush Creek, Qld Sept 1996 using Canon EX1 Hi8 and Sigma 400mm lens.

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