Great Potoo at CATIE

There was initially some confusion when the Cartago Province Rare Bird Alert posted two different potoo species at two different locations on the CATIE campus in Turrialba. This famous research and higher education centre is a haven for many bird species, but the potoo alert turned out to be a single species, the Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis). It was a red-letter day for me, as I had seen this species well only once before, and never in our Turrialba area.

Day-roosting Great Potoo takes a peek at us; photo by John Beer

John and Larry had a field day walking the 360 degree perimeter of the huge tree in which the bird was roosting to try and get good photos. It was particularly difficult because of the obtrusive foliage and the great height of the perch that the potoo had selected. John had noted that when he found the bird the previous day it had roused itself only when harassed by Brown Jays. For us mere humans it barely budged in more than an hour.

Tiny bill and slit eyes – Great Potoo; photo by John Beer
Great Potoo – front view; photo by John Beer

Finally, John managed a profile shot that reveals the size of the huge eyes, even though they remained closed:

Profile view of the Great Potoo at CATIE, Turrialba; photo by John Beer

At night the bulbous eyes shine orange, rather like those of the cartoon character, Garfield the Cat. The same is true of other potoo species. In Costa Rica we have the Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis) only in Guanacaste in the north-west. I have seen this species in northern Mexico but not in Costa Rica, since I am only infrequently in Guanacaste. However, the third species, the Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus) is found up to 1200 m on both coasts. It has evaded me so far, but John took excellent photographs of an individual at San Vito in April, 2018, which I simply must include here:

Common Potoo hiding in plain sight: You can see why it’s called pájaro estaca (stake bird) in Spanish!
Common Potoo at San Vito from another angle; photo by John Beer
Fast asleep or faking it? Common Potoo, courtesy of John Beer

February has arrived and the Great Potoo has now spent at least a couple of weeks roosting at CATIE. Good luck finding it, but if you don’t the CATIE lake and property are still well worth a visit.

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