Fr: Ibijau jamaïcain
Ang: Northern Potoo
All: Mexikotagschläfer
Esp: Nictibio Jamaicano, Bienparado Norteño
Ita: Nittibio settentrionale
Nd: Noordelijke Reuzennachtzwaluw
Sd: nordlig poto


Alfredo Colón
Puerto Rico Wildlife

Tom Merigan
Tom Merigan’s Photo Galleries

Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 5 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliott-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334253

NIGHTJARS - A Guide to Nightjars and Related Nightbirds – Nigel Cleere and Dave Nurney - Yale University Press - First Edition (August 11, 1998) - ISBN 10: 0300074573 / ISBN 13: 9780300074574

A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF MEXICO AND NORTHERN CENTRAL AMERICA by  Steve N. G. Howell, Sophie Webb - Oxford University Press - ISBN: 0198540124

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

BirdLife International (BirdLife International)

Neotropical Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

HBW Alive


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Page family Nyctibiidae

Summary Cards


Northern Potoo
Nyctibius jamaicensis

Caprimulgiformes Order – Nyctibiidae Family

Formerly considered a subspecies of the Common Potoo, the Northern Potoo is now a separate species, mainly based on distinctly different voices.
This is the northernmost species of this family. It occurs from N Mexico S to NW Costa Rica, and some populations are found on Hispaniola and Jamaica.
The Northern Potoo has the typical cryptic plumage of all potoos, and adopts similar motionless branch-like posture during the day. However, at night, it becomes very active and is often detected thanks to the striking eye shine.

Length: 38-44 cm
Wright: 210-282 g

The adult is fairly large with brownish plumage overall. The upperparts show cryptic plumage pattern with brown, grey, black and white markings. Both tail and wings are barred.
The underparts, including the throat, are grey-brown to pale greyish-cinnamon with dark streaking. The throat is usually paler and the breast shows variable blackish mottling.

On the head, crown and nape are heavily streaked blackish and brown, and we can see a dark gape line.
The bill is blackish. The eyes are yellow (sometimes orange). Legs and feet are greyish.

Male and female are similar.
The juvenile is paler overall with blackish gape line.   

The Northern Potoo has five recognized subspecies. They slightly differ in size and overall darkness of plumage. The birds living in dry regions are usually paler. The races “jamaicensis” and “abbotti” are similar to one another, and are more streaked on the underparts than in mainland forms.

N.j. lambi from Pacific slope of W Mexico. It is the largest race with longer wings and tail, and wider bill.
N.j. mexicanus from E and S Mexico, S to El Salvador and Honduras, including Roatán, off N Honduras. This one is larger and browner than nominate.
N.j. costaricensis occurs on Pacific slope of N and C Costa Rica, and possibly W Nicaragua.
N.j. jamaicensis is found in Jamaica.
N.j. abbotti occurs on Hispaniola and Gonâve Island. It is less heavily streaked than nominate.

N.j. abbotti

The Northern Potoo frequents wet and dry forests and mangroves, and can be seen in urban areas around golf courses. It also occurs in lowland areas in woodland and scrubland, and in plantations.
It usually roosts high in tall trees. The species is visible from sea-level up to 1500 metres of elevation.

The Northern Potoo gives deep, guttural calls often followed by 1-2 shorter notes “wahhrr wah-wah” or “bwaahhhr, ah-ah”. The first part of this series can be heard at a distance. This species has a barking alarm call.
These sounds may vary according to the range, consisting in series of mournful wailing whistles.

The Northern Potoo feeds on large flying insects, usually moths and coleopterans, and occasionally small birds. The preys are caught in flight by sallies from exposed perch. It forages at dusk and at night, flying up into the air to catch the prey. Then, it returns to the same perch. It may also investigate rotten branches and trunks for beetle larvae.     
The prey is engulfed whole in the large mouth. It forages from 1 metre above the ground and up to 18 metres in the forest canopy.

Like other Nyctibius species, the Northern Potoo is monogamous and both parents share all the nesting duties. The pair-bonds are probably long-term as potoos maintain territories for long time.
They do not build a nest and the female lays the egg in a depression in tree.

Like other potoos, it roosts in tree, and remains motionless, perched high in tall tree, so similar to the tree bark thanks to its cryptic plumage that blends with the environment. It usually roosts solitary, and pair members are rarely seen together.

The Northern Potoo is presumably sedentary. Some vagrants can be seen on islands off Puerto Rico.
The flight is strong with deep wingbeats. It also hovers near intruders in its territory.

The breeding season varies depending on the range, but usually occurs between April and July. However, the species breeds almost all year round in Jamaica.
The nest is a shallow, natural depression atop of stub or broken branch, at 4-7 metres above the ground, with no nest material used.

The female lays a single white egg with dark markings. Both adults share the incubation, the male during the day and the female at night. At hatching, the chick is covered in white down. It is fed by both parents by regurgitation during the night.

There is no information on incubation and nesting periods, but in the Common Potoo, the incubation lasts about 33 days, and the young fledges 47-50 days after hatching. We can suggest that these periods are fairly similar in the Northern Potoo.

The Northern Potoo has wide range in which it is rare, fairly common or local. Some decline is suspected due to habitat loss with forest destruction throughout the range.
The population is estimated to number 50,000/499,999 individuals (2008).
But currently, the Northern Potoo is evaluated as Least Concern.