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Nyctibius maculosus

Andean Potoo

  • Order: Caprimulgiformes
  • Family: Nyctibiidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Schulenberg, Thomas S., and Guy M. Kirwan



Potoos (Nyctibius) are large, long tailed birds with cryptic plumage. The head and eyes both are large; the mouth is very wide, although the bill is short. Andean Potoo is a medium sized potoo. The plumage primarily is brown, but heavily barred and mottled with buff on the upperparts, and mottled with black or dusky on the underparts. The most distinctive plumage feature is the prominent white band on the wing, formed by the mostly white wing coverts.

Similar Species

No other species of Nyctibius typically occurs in humid montane forest, and so Andean Potoo usually does not overlap with other potoos. Common Potoo (Nyctibus griseus) of the lowlands and lower slopes of the Andes is similar in size, but has grayer and less densely mottled plumage (especially on the belly), and lacks the white wing coverts of Andean. Similar also to White-winged Potoo (Nyctibius leucopterus), but White-winged is strictly confined to the lowlands, is significantly smaller and shorter tailed, is grayer, and the underparts are less heavily mottled. 


The song of Andean Potoo is described as "an almost queulous wailing shriek, kwaaaanh, given at intervals of 3-5 seconds" (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b), as "a nasal, slightly rising waaaaAAAa, recalling Long-tailed Potoo [Nyctibius aethereus] but higher pitched" (Hilty 2003), and as "a loud human-sounding cry: raaAAH!" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2007).

A call, given in flight, upon landing, or when disturbed, is "a slow, hollow wok wok wok" (Hilty 2003) or "a quieter bu bu bu" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2007).

Additional recordings of vocalizations of Andean Potoo can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is based on Cleere (1998):

Adult male: Crown and nape brown, narrowly streaked white and buff,and broadly streaked with blackish. The back is brown, barred and spotted with pale tawny and buff, and streaked with blackish brown. The rump and uppertail coverts are brown, sparsely barred or spotted with buff. The primary coverts are brown. The outer greater wing coverts are brown, mottled grayish white; the inner greater wing coverts often are white. Median wing coverts white or buff, streaked and tipped blackish brown. Lesser wing coverts brown or blackish brown. Primaries brown, the outer webs boldly spotted with grayish. Secondaries brown, mottled with pale buff, especially along the edges of the outer webs. Tertials brown, mottled grayish brown, grayish white, buff, and pale tawny. Rectrices brown, faintly barred with brownish buff. Lores and auriculars brown or blackish brown, streaked with buff and tawny. Chin and throat white or grayish white, lower throat washed with cinnamon. Breast brown, feathers tipped with blackish brown and with a broad buff or pale tawny subterminal band. Belly and flanks buffish, barred and vermiculated brown, and boldly spotted with blackish brown. Lower belly and undertail coverts pale buff, cinnamon buff, or whitish, streaked and spotted with blackish brown. 

Adult female: Similar to male, but the white of the wing coverts is heavily tinged with buff, and the plumage overall is on average buffier or tawnier, especially on the upperparts and on the breast.

Juvenile: Not described.

Bare Parts

Iris: yellow, bright yellow-orange

Bill: black

Tarsi and toes: brownish white, cream, or tarsus pink and toes grayish white

Bare parts color data from Remsen and Traylor (1983), Schulenberg et al. (1984), Parker et al. (1985).


Total length: 34-38 cm (Cleere 1998), 38 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986, Hilty 2003), 38-40.5 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b)

Linear measurements (mm), from Cleere (1998):

Mass: 1 male, 195 g (Schulenberg et al. 1984); 1 female, 145 g (Parker et al. 1985), 1 female 185 g (Remsen and Traylor 1983).


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Geographic Variation



Nyctibius maculosus was described as a species by Ridgway (1912), with a type locality of Ambato, Ecuador. Chapman (1926: 273) suggested that the type was collected not at Ambato, but "from the region near or below Baños which stands at the gateway of the tableland to the Oriente". The type is in the American Museum of Natural History (Greenway 1978).

The taxonomic history of maculosus was summarized by Schulenberg et al. (1984):
"Chapman (1926) suggested that N. maculosus was a 'representative' of N. leucopterus of eastern Brazil (Bahia). Later authors (Pinto, 1938; Peters, 1940; Meyer de Schauensee 1966) have taken this to mean that the two taxa should be considered conspecific, although Chapman (1926) clearly regarded the two as separate species ... Nyctibius leucopterus and N. maculosus are well-separated geographically and are so different morphologically that we find it inconceivable that they could be considered conspecific, and propose re-instating N. maculosus as a full species".

Genetic data from a variety of sources, including protein electrophoresis (Brumfield et al. 1996) and phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial and of non-coding nuclear genes (Mariaux and Braun 1996, Braun and Huddleston 2009) consistently indicate that maculosus and leucopterus are sister species.

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, Thomas S., and Guy M. Kirwan. 2012. Andean Potoo (Nyctibius maculosus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: