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Potoos: Nyctibiidae

Physical Characteristics

Like other members of the Caprimulgiformes order, the potoo (poe-TOO) has a large head and large eyes that provide the stronger vision needed for birds that are active at night. Caprimulgiformes have large gapes, which is the width of the mouth when open. A large gape allows birds to catch prey, creatures like insects hunted for food. The potoo's gape is as wide as its head.

While most members of the Caprimulgiformes order have whisker-like bristles on their faces, some potoo species lack bristles, or their bristles are not well-developed. The visible portion of all potoos' bills is small. Potoos have long wings and long, pointed tails. They have short legs and strong toes.

From head to tail, potoos measure from 8 to 23 inches (21 to 57 inches). They weigh 1.6 to 22 ounces (46 to 624 grams). The birds' soft feathers are usually gray, yellowish brown, blackish brown, and white. The rufous potoo is a combination of orange and rufous (reddish brown). Wing color is described in the name of the white-winged potoo.

Bands of colors in the potoo family's feathers form patterns so that potoos resemble the trees where they live. Adult males and females have similar plumage (feather) coloring.

During the nineteenth century, birds in the Nyctibiidae family were called "tree nighthawks." They are now known by the name of one of the species. People thought it sounded like birds in the species were saying the word "potoo."

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsPotoos: Nyctibiidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Potoos And People, Gray Potoo (nyctibius Griseus): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS