The common potoo, also referred to as the poor-me-ones like other potoo species because of their vocalizations, is the smallest known member of their family. Its unique appearance allows it to be virtually indistinguishable from the dead branches it perches on. They are closely related to nightjars and frogmouths, but aren’t considered the same species, owing to the lack of bristles around their mouths.
Tail: The tail is 6.8- 7.7 in (174-196 mm) long, marked with about 8-10 black bands.
Face: Its mouth is broad with a black bill. The bird also has large, yellow eyes which turn orange at night. The pupil at the center looks like a big black dot.
Body and coloration: Their plumage is quite disruptive and hard to distinguish, with shades of black, gray, white, and red giving it an overall cryptic look. The underparts, throat, and flight feathers are all variations of gray, with the breast region being dotted with black spots. The legs and feet are gray.
Range and Distribution
They live in Central and South America, including places like Costa Rica, Nicaragua, northern Uruguay, and northern Argentina.
It inhabits open woodlands and savannahs, thriving in forest edges and semi-open areas with scattered trees and hedges. Though it avoids arid regions, in April 1999, the bird was spotted in Colombia’s drier Caribbean plainlands.
The common potoo is an insectivore feeding on flies and moths.
While the lifespan of these birds remains unknown, they live for 12-14 years like most other birds of their family.
It uses the masquerading technique, trying to camouflage itself with the perch that matches its plumage, and is also of a similar length to tits diameter.
When awake, these birds mostly sit with their eyes opened, seeing everything around intently. Their bills remain horizontally positioned.
If disturbed or threatened, they “freeze” by sticking their bills up vertically, closing their eyelids, and remaining motionless (even if touched). In extreme cases, it could break its camouflage and get after its predators or even fly away, especially if approached by humans.
They tend to be solitary and territorial, living 500m apart from one another.
These nocturnal birds sleep during the day and start hunting from dusk. The common potoo mostly sits with an open mouth, eagerly waiting to catch insects the moment they fly by.
Common Potoo Calls
They are most well known for their eerily haunting melancholic calls in the night, which sound like “BU-OH, BU-ou, bu-ou, bu-oo, bu-aw….”. If seized or caught by a predator, it emits a squeaky sound, closely similar to a crow.
The common marmoset is a threat to it.
Their plumage helps them blend themselves with their surroundings, serving as a defense mechanism against predators.
The wings of the common potoo are strong enough to allow for deep wing beats,aiding in a speedy flight when the need arises.
Their upper and lower eyelids can move independently, and the presence of 2-3 slits in them helps the birds see while their eyes are closed.
The common potoo has a wide mouth, with a tooth in the upper mandible that helps them in foraging.
Mating and Reproduction
They are monogamous, generally mating for life. The breeding season is variable, with those living in northern regions mate between January and July, while others do so in November to December.
A female potoo lays a single egg at a time that appears white with lilac spots. The nest egg hatches in the depressed part of the tree limb, 3-20 m above the ground, where the chick is also raised. Incubation takes place for around 30 days, with the father taking care of the eggs during the day. At night, both parents incubate in turns. Till the 19th day, the parents would continue providing warmth both day and night, post which they would only do so at night until the nestling is 25 days old.
The egg hatches after 33 days, with the young using their egg tooth to break out of their shells. The parents both take care of the newborn, feeding it via regurgitation.
The chick is white, with black markings, a dark eye line, and a dark bill. Initially, it will hide under its parents, but once it becomes older, it will adopt the same masquerading techniques as adults. It makes a buzzing sound when it wants food. They begin performing wing exercises after 14 days and start taking small flights, leaving the nest after 25 days from hatching.
The IUCN lists the common potoo as “LC” or “Least Concern”. While not quite endangered yet, the destruction of their habitats has led to a decline in their overall population.
Their wide mouth and bright yellow eyes give them a “derpy” look, making them a subject of quite a few memes.