Aegothelidae – Owlet-nightjars

They are not owls, nightjars, or frogmouth- representing the phrase don’t judge a book by its cover

Owlet nightjars are nocturnal birds that inhabit forests and woodlands, primarily in Australia and New Guinea, with some species found in the Moluccas and the Solomon Islands. As their name suggests, they exhibit characteristics reminiscent of both owls and nightjars, although genetically, they are distinct from both groups and share a closer ancestry with swifts.

Owlet nightjars are often distinguished by their soft plumage, which is well adapted for their nocturnal lifestyle, providing excellent camouflage against the bark of trees where they roost during the day. Their plumage often features intricate patterns and colors that mirror the trees’ bark, which allows them to remain virtually invisible to predators and unsuspecting prey.

The facial bristles and plumes of owlet nightjars are not just for show; they play a role in their sensory perception, aiding in detecting prey during their nocturnal hunts. These birds have large, forward-facing eyes, granting them excellent night vision, a necessary adaptation for a night creature.

Their feet are small and not particularly strong, reflecting their lifestyle of perching and minimal ground movement. However, when they take to the ground, they can walk with a surprising amount of agility, foraging for insects and other small invertebrates.

Owlet-nightjars engage in a variety of foraging behaviors, including sallying from perches to catch flying insects or foraging on the forest floor. Their diet includes a range of insects, such as moths, beetles, and other arthropods, which they catch using their beaks.

Their evolutionary history is indeed intriguing, with morphological and genetic analyses suggesting a divergence from what we traditionally think of as “swift-like” birds. Yet, their nocturnal habits and physical appearance bear a stronger resemblance to that of nightjars, hence the common confusion in their classification.