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Nyctibius jamaicensis

Northern Potoo

  • Order: Caprimulgiformes
  • Family: Nyctibiidae
  • Polytypic 5 Subspecies

Authors: Gu, Daniel, Robert A. Behrstock, and Thomas S. Schulenberg

Nyctibius jamaicensis

Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico; 9 April 2011 © Rolando Chavez

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. In eastern Costa Rica it is replaced by the similar appearing but very different sounding Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus). An inhabitant of wet and dry forests, mangroves, and even towns, Northern Potoos are difficult to find during the day when their cryptic branch-like posture and plumage, coupled with a propensity to perch in tall trees, complicate detection. At night, they are more easily encountered, perching on fence posts, low branches, and utility poles, from which their striking eye shine may be seen from a great distance. Unlike their sweet-voiced southern replacement, the Common Potoo, Northern Potoo utters a gruff kwaaaaaa-kwa, kwa, most likely to be heard on moon-lit nights when the birds remain active. At certain locations, Northern Potoos become habituated to street lights and may be observed as they harvest the bounty of moths and beetles attracted to the glow.

Recommended Citation

Gu, Daniel, Robert A. Behrstock, and Thomas S. Schulenberg. 2014. Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online:

This map is based on the maps available from the NatureServe InfoNatura website. The data for these maps are provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE.

  • Migration/Movement:Resident (nonmigratory)
  • Primary Habitat:Tropical deciduous forest edge
  • Foraging Strata:Understory/Canopy
  • Foraging Behavior:Sally
  • Diet:Terrestrial invertebrates
  • Sociality:Solitary
  • Mating System:Monogamy
  • Nest Form:No Nest
  • Clutch: 1 - 1
  • IUCN Status:Least Concern