All About Potoo Birds
The seven species of nocturnal potoo birds (Nyctibiidae) are among the most intriguing animals in the tropics. Their big eyes, mournful calls, and cryptic camouflage make them hard for humans to spot. They are also one of the few birds that can see with their eyes closed—they have slits along their eyelids that let them keep tabs on their surroundings even when they’re asleep or hiding behind a tree stump.
All About Potoo Birds unafraid of predators such as monkeys, weasels, and falcons. They rely mainly on camouflage to avoid being seen by predators during the day. Their colors resemble tree bark and they can be further disguised by taking on a specific “cryptic posture” that includes stretching vertically, closing their eyes, compressing their head feathers, and holding still. Great potoos can even mimic the look of a rotting tree stump with their stance and bare branches that protrude from their body.
During the night, potoos awaken from their vertical perches, often 10 to 12 feet above ground. They then lower themselves further until they’re practically invisible. When they do venture out in search of prey, their large eyes can spot moths and other flying insects in the dark. They can then catch the prey with their fast, short flights.
All About Potoo Birds: Nature’s Hidden Guardians of the Night
While they’re solitary hunters, potoo birds share duties in the family: the males take care of the nest, and both parents are involved in raising young. They’re monogamous and lay a single egg. Both parents then incubate the egg and feed the chick. Despite their elusive nature, the IUCN lists potoos as “least concern.” However, they’re being threatened by habitat loss as trees are chopped down to make way for agriculture and human development.