White-tailed Nightjar Hydropsalis cayennensis

  • Order: Caprimulgiformes
  • Family: Caprimulgidae
  • Polytypic: 6 subspecies
  • Authors: Mary Margaret Ferraro


Geographic Variation

Six subspecies currently recognized (Dickinson and Remsen 2013):

albicauda, described as Setopagis albicauda Lawrence 1875; type locality Talamanca, Costa Rica

Occurs in Costa Rica, Panama, and northern Colombia (east to the region of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta).

Similar to nominate cayennensis, but the belly of the male is heavily tinged with buff; the underparts of the female are dark brownish buff (Cleere 1998). Perhaps also longer tailed than nominate cayennensis (Cleere 1998).

aperta, proposed as Caprimulgus cayennensis apertus Peters 1940, nomen nov. for Setopagis cayennensis monticola Chapman 1914, preoccupied in Caprimulgus; type locality San Antonio, western Andes above Cali [Valle del Cauca], Colombia

Occurs in the Cauca Valley of Colombia and in northwestern Ecuador.

Similar to albicauda, but the female has darker upperparts, and deeper buff underparts (Cleere 1998). Perhaps larger overall (longer wing, tail, and bill) than nominate cayennensis (Cleere 1998).

insularis, described as Stenopsis cayennensis insularis Richmond 1902; type locality Curaçao

Occurs in northeastern Colombia (Guajira Peninsula), northwestern Venezuela, on Margarita Island, and on the islands of Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire.

Paler than nominate cayennensis, with more buff on the upperparts, especially on the crown and wing coverts (Cleere 1998); perhaps also smaller, with darker undertail coverts (Cleere 1998).

manati, described by Pinchon 1963

Occurs on Martinique.

Generally darker than nominate cayennensis; the white band on the outer primaries of the male is narrower, and there is slightly less white in the tail (Cleere 1998).

leopetes, described as Caprimulgus leopetes Jardine and Selby 1830; type locality Tobago.

Occurs on Trinidad and Tobago.

Very similar to nominate cayennensis; Peters (1940) doubted that it was distinct, and considered to be a synonym of cayennensis by Holyoak (2001). The upperparts of the male are tawnier than in nominate cayennensis, especially on the crown and wing coverts; the nuchal collar is richer and more defined; and the buff edges to the scapulars are deeper (Cleere 1998). The underparts are darker and more heavily washed with buff (Cleere 1998). The female has paler, browner upperparts, and a brighter, more defined nuchal collar (Cleere 1998).

cayennensis, described as Caprimulgus cayennensis Gmelin 1789; type locality Cayenne.

Occurs in eastern Colombia, southern Venezuela, the Guianas, and northern Brazil.

See Detailed Description.

A phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data, from both mitochondrial and nuclear genes, revealed two clades within Hydropsalis cayennesnsis: a western group (represented by subspecies albicauda, aperta, and insularis), and an eastern group (leopotes and cayennensis) (Sigurdsson and Cracraft 2014). Divergence between these two clades was 1.3% (in ND2), and genetic variation within each clade was low. Subspecies manati was not included in this survey.

Related Species

Until recently, cayennensis was classified in the genus Caprimulgus, a genus that eventually encompassed a large number of species of nightjars worldwide (e.g., Peters 1940, Dickinson 2003). Phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data, from both mitochondrial and nuclear genes, reveals that the broadly defined Caprimulgus of Peters (1940) and other authors is highly polyphyletic (Han et al. 2010, Sigurdsson and Cracraft 2014). Caprimulgus proper is entirely confined to the Old World, and New World species of "Caprimulgus" are split into several clades.

"Caprimulgus" cayennensis is revealed to belong to a clade that also includes "Caprimulgus" maculicaudus (Spot-tailed Nightjar) and the genus Hydropalis (Han et al. 2010, Sigurdsson and Cracraft 2014). Hydropsalis is the oldest available generic name for this clade, so both cayennensis and maculicaudus are transferred from Caprimulgus to that genus. Hydropsalis currently includes four species: Hydropsalis climacocerca (Ladder-tailed Nightjar), Hydropsalis torquata (Scissor-tailed Nightjar), Hydropsalis maculicaudus, and Hydropsalis cayennensis. Phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data, from both mitochondrial and nuclear genes, indicate that climacocerca and torquata are sister taxa, and that cayennensis is sister to these two (Han et al. 2010, Sigurdsson and Cracraft 2014).

Recommended Citation

Ferraro, M. M. (2015). White-tailed Nightjar (Hydropsalis cayennensis), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.whtnig1.01