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Gray nightjar


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The appearance of a giant forest nightjar

The gigantic gray nightjar is a large bird that resembles European nightjars in appearance.

The body length of a giant nightjar can reach 55 cm, and its weight can reach 230 g. The wingspan is about 125 cm, the tail - up to 27 cm, and the wing - up to 40 cm.

The plumage is mostly gray and has black stripes and spots. The legs of the bird are very short, and the tail is long. In general, nightjars are a fairly large group of birds that are widespread in various regions of the world (mainly tropical and subtropical) and are nocturnal. Unlike the gigantic forest nightjar, the bulk of the species weighs only about one hundred grams, and only the largest representatives of this order can reach the size of a rook and weigh up to four hundred grams.

Both females and males of the nightjar are colored the same. At the same time, the color of nightjars does not differ in diversity and very much resembles the color of the bark of a particular tree. In the upper part of the body, the plumage is mottled against a black and white background with dark and very thin transverse lines in the form of zigzags. At the ends of the feathers there are rusts of a rusty-brown color. There are also dark bar stripes.

The legs of the gigantic forest nightjar are yellowish gray, the eyes are dark brown, and the beak is gray with a yellowish-horny tint.

One of the characteristic features of the nightjar is a short beak of very large width, which has bristle-like vibrissae at the corners of the mouth, which are a kind of adaptation for catching insects on the fly at night.

The eyes of the nightjar are very sensitive and have a large size, which is also associated with a nocturnal lifestyle, as well as the loose, soft plumage of an owl.

Nightjars are excellent flyers, have pointed long wings with ten or, more rarely, eleven flight feathers. The tail is also long and has six pairs of tail feathers.

Flying nightjars have a noticeable resemblance to hawks and somewhat less to swallows.

Nightjar's paws are short and, once on the ground, their movements are characterized by low speed and clumsiness. They mostly move along the ground with awkward, slow jumps. In the area of ​​the upper tail of the gigantic nightjar there are powders that produce powdered fluff.


  • Del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. (Hrsg.) (1999): Handbook of the Birds of the World
    ... Volume 5: Barn-Owls to Hummingbirds. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-25-3
  • Erik Hirschfeld: The Rare Birds Yearbook 2008.
    MagDig Media Ltd., Shrewsbury, 2007, ISBN 978-0-9552607-3-5
  • Ekstrom, J. M. M. & J. P. G. Jones, J. Willis, J. Tobias, G. Dutson und N. Barré: New information on the distribution, status and conservation of terrestrial bird species in Grande Terre, New Caledonia
    ... In:
    102 (2). 2002, 197-207. [ PDF, Online, 269.2 kb]

The spread of the gigantic forest nightjar

It is believed that this bird is found in all forests of the South American continent. In any case, it was possible to catch him both in Paraguay and in Cayenne. Apparently, this bird is more common than was commonly thought, but it is very difficult to meet it during the day, and it is not easy to do it at night. Moreover, the nightjars have mastered the art of camouflage to perfection. The plumage, similar to the color of tree bark, reliably protects it from the eyes of enemies, and at the same time from the eyes of ornithologists. It is even more difficult to spot the gigantic gray nightjar due to its ability to remain motionless for a long time.

General description

The giant nightjar is a relatively small bird weighing no more than 400 g. Its body length can reach 55 cm. The color of the plumage in males and females is almost identical. Because of the unusual and terrifying head of the animal, as well as scary eyes, it is called the "messenger from hell." The bird has a short and wide beak, large wings and a long tail. Due to their short legs, nightjars look awkward.

Birds of prey have a dark brown plumage on the top and a rusty brown with characteristic spots and stripes below. Dark transverse stripes are visible on the tail and flight feathers.

Gigantic forest nightjar

Behavior of the gigantic forest nightjar

According to the observations of ornithologists, the gigantic forest nightjar chooses the ends of dried branches as a place for its sitting. At the same time, he sits down so that his head hangs beyond the end of the bitch, making the bitch seem longer than it really is. However, despite this, or, on the contrary, thanks to this, it is extremely difficult to notice the bird. However, if you still managed to notice the nightjar, then you can get the sleeping bird almost without effort, unless it climbed too high for rest.

From the notes of ornithologists it is known that the inhabitants of Paraguay catch the gigantic forest nightjars at noon, throwing a noose over their heads and pulling them from the tree. There are also mentions that at this time of day the nightjars may not even react to the sound of a shot. Moreover, it was sometimes impossible to drive the nightjar from his chosen resting place, even ruffling his feathers with a shot. Some nightjars were knocked off the branches by simply throwing a stone or even a stick at them. At the same time, a person driven from his place by a nightjar can easily return to his favorite place after a while, without fear of a repeated attack.

At dusk, this bird behaves in a completely different way. At this time of day, the gigantic forest nightjar is as agile and dexterous as other nightjars.

However, there are reports that gigantic nightjars can hunt in the daytime, acting as follows: from time to time the bird opens its mouth, thereby luring flies, which willingly sit on the sticky mucous membrane. And when the number of insects became large enough, the nightjar covered his mouth and swallowed the prey. After some time, the hunt resumed, but the bird's eyes remained closed all the time. However, when the observer touched the bird, it immediately flew away.

A gigantic forest nightjar hunting on the ground very rarely sits down, but if it does happen, they can, spreading their wings, lean on them, as well as on the tail, almost without the help of their legs. Nightjars are especially active in the moonlight. At night, they sometimes emit drawn-out inviting cries, clear and deep, decreasing both in volume and in height.

Hummingbird (Trochilidae)

White-eared Erion (Eriocnemis mirabilis) - a species on the verge of extinction

Berlepsheva forest star (Chaetocercus berlepschi) - an endangered species

Turquoise Erion (Eriocnemis godini) - a species on the verge of extinction

Bronze-tailed Ramphodon (Glaucis dohrnii) - an endangered species

Honduran amazilia (Amazilia luciae) - an endangered species

Guerreros euferuse (Eupherusa poliocerca) - vulnerable species

Long-tailed thalurania (Thalurania watertonii) - endangered species

Green Inca (Coeligena orina) - a species on the verge of extinction

Gold metallurgy (Metallura iracunda) - an endangered species

Emerald Brace's hummingbird (Chlorostilbon bracei) - an extinct species

Gould's emerald hummingbird (Chlorostilbon elegans) - an extinct species

Chestnut-bellied amazilia (Amazilia castaneiventris) - an endangered species

Coquette Gould (Lophornis gouldii) - vulnerable species

Royal nymph (Heliangelus regalis) - endangered species

Short-crested paphosia (Lophornis brachylophus) - a species on the verge of extinction

Red-necked diamond (Heliodoxa gularis) - vulnerable species

Forest nymph (Hylonympha macrocerca) - an endangered species

Lesser forest star (Chaetocercus bombus) - vulnerable species

Mangrove amazilia (Amazilia boucardi) - an endangered species

Mexican thalurania (Thalurania ridgwayi) - vulnerable species

Oaxaca euferuse (Eupherusa cyanophrys) - an endangered species

Flame-throated selasphorus (Selasphorus ardens) - an endangered species

Purple-throated Metallura (Metallura baroni) - an endangered species

The purple-backed sunbeam (Aglaeactis aliciae) is an endangered species

Rocket-tailed hummingbird (Loddigesia mirabilis) - an endangered species

Santa Martino Saberwing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) - an endangered species

Sapphire-bellied lepidopyga (Lepidopyga lilliae) - a species on the verge of extinction

Gray-bellied lesbian (Taphrolesbia griseiventris) - an endangered species

Bluebeard hummingbird (Oxypogon cyanolaemus) - critically endangered

Fernandes fire-capped hummingbird (Sephanoides fernandensis) - a species on the verge of extinction

Colored-headed hummingbird (Anthocephala floriceps) - vulnerable species

Black-breasted Erion (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) - a species on the verge of extinction

Black-backed short-billed hummingbird (Ramphomicron dorsale) - an endangered species

Black Inca (Coeligena prunellei) - vulnerable species

Chilean hummingbird (Eulidia yarrellii) - critically endangered

Ecuadorian phlogophilus (Phlogophilus hemileucurus) - vulnerable species

Aglaiocercus berlepschi - an endangered species

Coeligena consita - vulnerable species

Eriocnemis isabellae - endangered species

Oxypogon stuebelii - vulnerable species


Depending on the region of habitat, birds can breed from April to December. The gigantic nightjar belongs to monogamous animals. During the mating season, the female and the male build a nest in the broken trees, after which the female lays only one egg. Parents guard the future chick in turn. When a baby is born, he already has a unique color that allows him to disguise himself in the wild, so his safety is ensured. The cub is so merged with the environment that only the shell of a white egg allows you to find it in a dark forest.

The wingspan of a gigantic nightjar can reach one meter. In some cases, the nocturnal predator feeds on small birds and bats. The animal got its unusual name because of its habit of catching insects near herds of cows, goats and sheep. Birds skilfully fly under the belly or hooves of a large mammal.

Family: Nyctibiidae = Giant Nightjars

There are 7 species in the family included in one genus Nyctibius, found in tropical Central and South America.

Giant nightjars are nocturnal insectivorous birds that lack the bristles around their mouths that other true nightjars do. They hunt prey like shrike or flycatcher. During the day, they sit disguised upright on a tree stump, looking like part of a bitch. One spotted egg is laid directly on top of the tree stump.

Evolution and taxonomy: Gigantic nightjars today live exclusively in the New World, but they, apparently, were much more widespread in the past. Potoo fossils dating back to the Oligocene and Eocene have been found in France and Germany. The complete skeleton of the genus Paraprefica was discovered in Messel, Germany. It had skull and leg functions similar to those of modern potoo, it is speculated that it may be an early close relative of modern potoo. Potoo fossils were found almost everywhere, this suggests that this family once had a global distribution, perhaps the distribution of the family was initially limited to the Old World, and only then it moved to the New World.

Morphology: Giant Nightjars are a very conservative family in appearance, all species alike. Their body length ranges from 21 to 58 cm. They look like an upright sitting owl. They also resemble the Owl Frogs of Australia, but are squat and much heavier. They have a proportionally large head for their body size and long wings and tails. The large head is dominated by a massive wide mouth and huge eyes. In addition, the beak has a thin but unique "tooth" at the anterior edge of the upper jaw, which can serve a specific function in feeding. Unlike its closest related species, potoo lacks bristles around the mouth. The legs and feet are weak and used for sitting only, not walking. The eyes are large, even larger than those of others. As with many types of night birds, they reflect the light of a flashlight. These eyes, which can be visible to would-be predators during the day, have unusual slits in the eyelids: these slits allow the sweat to feel movement even when their eyes were completely closed. The plumage of the potoo is camouflage and is intended to help them merge with the branches on which they spend their daytime.

Habitat and Distribution: Potoo are of Neotropical distribution. They are found from Mexico to Argentina, with the greatest species diversity in the Amazon basin, home to 5 species. They are available in every Central and South American country except Chile. They are also found on 3 Caribbean islands: Jamaica, Haiti and Tobago. Potoo are generally highly sedentary species, although there are sporadic reports of migrations, especially of species that traveled by boat. All species are found in humid forests, although some species are also found in dry forests.

Behavior: Small potoo perfectly disguises itself as a stump and will not fly during the day. They sit on branches with half-closed eyes all day. With their camouflage dress, they resemble stumps, and when they identify a potential danger, they immediately assume a pose of complete immobility, in which they even more resemble a broken branch. The transition between just a sitting position and a freezing position occurs gradually and is barely noticeable to the observer.

Potoo feed at dusk and at night, catching flying insects. Their typical feeding method is to ambush on a branch, and sometimes fly out in order to catch flying insects. They sometimes fly to vegetation to collect insects from it, before returning to their ambushes, but will not attempt to collect prey from the ground. Beetles make up the majority of their diet, but they also prey on butterflies, grasshoppers, and termites. One Northern Potoo had a small bird in its belly. Catching an insect, the potoo will swallow it whole without hitting or crushing it.

Potoo are monogamous breeders and both parents have joint responsibility for hatching (incubating) eggs and raising chicks. Families do not build any nests, but lay a single egg in the hollow of a branch, trunk, or at the top of a rotten tree stump. The egg is white with purple-brown spots. One of the parents, often a male, incubates the egg all day, and then responsibilities are shared between both parents at night. A rare change of parents facilitates and accelerates the incubation of eggs and feeding the chicks is also not so often in order to minimize the attention of predators on the nest, since potoos are completely dependent on their protective camouflage. The chicks will hatch about a month after laying the eggs and the chick will be cared for by the parents for about 2 months. The plumage of the chicks is white, and as soon as they are too large to hide under the wings of their parents, they will begin to assume the same position as their parents - freezing, and becoming like a ball of mushrooms.

It is not easy to notice him in the daytime, when he sits motionless, resembling a tree twig. When the bird is calm, its head is extended and the closed beak is directed forward, but if it is alarmed, then its whole body is tense and slightly forward, the beak is slightly open and directed straight up. You can, carefully approaching, sometimes even touch the bird. The gray nightjar eats insects, which he catches at night in the manner of flycatchers, i.e. sits quietly for a while on a protruding branch, then takes off for prey and again returns to its observation post. Its main food is beetles, hymenoptera, orthopterans, etc. The gray nightjar is especially active on moonlit nights. You can sometimes learn about his presence by his peculiar abrupt "bark".

Forever surprised by the gigantic nightjar

These birds with a huge mouth and bulging eyes look as if they are always surprised by something. In English they are called Potoo, in Russian they are forest nightjars.

The forest nightjars (Nyctibius) are related to the common nightjars and frogs. They inhabit forests and open wooded areas in Central and South America, as well as the Antilles. There is no pronounced sexual dimorphism between the sexes (females and males look almost the same).