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Owlet-Nightjars: Aegothelidae - Physical Characteristics

owls eyes short facial

The name "owlet-nightjar" refers to the characteristics that these birds share with owls, members of the Strigiformes order, and with nightjars, other members of the Caprimulgiformes order. Owlet-nightjars and other members of this order have large heads and large eyes that provide strong vision at night.

Owlet-nightjars also look somewhat like small owls. Both owlet-nightjars and owls have long, narrow tails and wings. The eyes of owlet-nightjars and owls face forward like a human's eyes do. The owl's eyes are in a facial disk, an arrangement of facial feathers that focuses sounds to its ears. The round shape of the owl's face is very clear; the facial disk is not as clear on the owlet-nightjar.

Owlet-nightjars have short legs, a characteristic of the Caprimulgiformes order. However, their legs are not as short of those of other bird families in this order. Furthermore, owlet-nightjars have long toes and claws on their feet, which is similar to the owls, who have sharp claws called talons (TAL-unz). Some other families in the Caprimulgiformes order have a toe that is serrated like the teeth of a comb.

Frogmouths have wide, curved bills, and owls have a short, hooked bill. Owlet-nightjars have tiny bills surrounded by whisker-like bristles. Their small bill opens to a gape, width of the open mouth, which is as wide as their head.

All members of the owlet-nightjar family have dark eyes and soft plumage, feathers, in various shades of brown. Other plumage colors include gray, tan, and rufous, a reddish brown color. Feathers are patterned with streaks of color. Owlet-nightjars range from 7 to 12 inches (18 to 30 centimeters) in length. They weigh from 1 to 3.5 ounces (29 to 98 grams).

Little is known about some owlet-nightjar species because the birds are nocturnal and remain hidden during the day. However, researchers have been able to observe the Australian owlet-nightjar. Females are usually rufous and males are gray. Both have paler coloring on their undersides. There are pale black bars on the undersides, and they have two black stripes on their heads. Australian owlet-nightjars are 8.3 to 10 inches long (20 to 23 centimeters) and weigh 1.4 to 2.1 ounces (39 to 60 grams).


Owlet-Nightjars: Aegothelidae - Diet [next]

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