Kaieteur News – Potoos (family Nyctibiidae) are a group of Caprimulgiformes birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths. They are sometimes called poor-me-ones, after their haunting calls. There are seven species in one genus, Nyctibius, in tropical Central and South America. These are nocturnal insectivores which lack the bristles around the mouth found in the true nightjars. They hunt from a perch like a shrike or flycatcher. During the day, they perch upright on tree stumps, camouflaged to look like part of the stump. The single spotted egg is laid directly on the top of a stump.
The potoos are today an exclusively New World family, but they apparently had a much more widespread distribution in the past. Fossil remains of potoos dating from the Oligocene and Eocene have been found in France and Germany. A complete skeleton of the genus Paraprefica has been found in Messel, Germany. It had skull and leg features similar to those of modern potoos, suggesting that it may be an early close relative of the modern potoos. Because the only fossils other than these ancient ones that have been found are recent ones of extinct species, it is unknown if the family once had a global distribution, which has contracted, or if the distribution of the family was originally restricted to the Old World and has shifted to the New World.
The potoos are highly nocturnal and generally do not fly during the day. They spend the day perched on branches with the eyes half closed. With their cryptic plumage they resemble stumps, and should they detect potential danger they adopt a “freeze” position which even more closely resembles a broken branch. The transition between perching and the freeze position is gradual and hardly perceptible to the observer. The English zoologist Hugh Cott, describing Nyctibius griseus as “this wonderful bird”, writes that it “habitually selects the top of an upright stump as a receptacle for its egg, which usually occupies a small hollow just, and only just, large enough to contain it … the stump selected had thrown up a new leader just below the point of fracture … and the birds sat facing this in such a way that when viewed from behind they came into line and blended with the grey stem.”
Potoos feed at dusk and at night on flying insects. Their typical foraging technique is to perch on a branch and occasionally fly out in the manner of a flycatcher in order to snatch a passing insect. They occasionally fly to vegetation to glean an insect off it before returning to their perch, but they do not attempt to obtain prey from the ground. Beetles form a large part of their diet, but they also take moths, grasshoppers and termites. One northern potoo was found with a small bird in its stomach as well. Having caught an insect, potoos swallow it whole without beating or crushing it.
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