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Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis

  • Order: Caprimulgiformes
  • Family: Nyctibiidae
  • Polytypic: 5 subspecies
  • Authors: Daniel Gu, Robert A. Behrstock, and Thomas S. Schulenberg

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.

Song (Caribbean)

© Gregory Budney

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Gu, D., R. A. Behrstock, and T. S. Schulenberg (2014). Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.