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- Photo via Ebird org. 

Wild Costa Rica:

 the Ghost Bird

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Published on Friday, August 18, 2023

By Andrew McCarthy

The Ghost Bird (family Nyctibiidae), also known as Potoos, is a group of birds native to Costa Rica.

These birds  called "ghost" because of their defensive tactic when a predator gets near their nest. The bird stays still and uses camouflage to blend in with a dry tree branch, in an attempt to avoid being detected.

Due to birds' camouflage allowing them to blend in with a dry tree branch, in Costa Rica they are also called "pajaro estaca " in Spanish.

They are also commonly referred to as poor-me-ones due to their distinct haunting calls.

According to the System of Conservation Areas (Sinac), the public institution in charge of the administration of national parks and conservation areas, the bird has been spotted in most of the northern zone of the country in places such as GuatusoUpala and Los Chiles in Alajuela Province.

Costa Rica has three species of ghost birds out of the five that exist in the American tropics, the Large Poultry (Nyctibius grandis), the Common Ponytail (Nyctibius griseus) and the Northern Ponyfish (Nyctibius jamaicensis).

The nocturnal insectivore birds don't have bristles around their mouths. Like shrikes or flycatchers, they hunt from a perch.

In the daytime, they stand upright on tree stumps, disguised to blend in with the stump. They lay a single spotted egg right on top of the stump.

This family has a conservative appearance, with each species closely resembling the others. They are often noted for their unique appearance in ornithological literature as being unusual. They can range in length from 21 to 58 cm (8.3 to 22.8 in).

Their eyes, like many nocturnal birds, are large and reflect the light of flashlights.

The bird has cryptic plumage that allows it to blend in with the branches it perches on during the day. In case the camouflage fails to protect the bird from predators, it will open its beak and eyes wide while making vocalizations to intimidate them. If that does not work they fly out of reach.

According to the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology report published in 2005, fossil remains of potoos evidence that they also inhabited Europe during the Paleogene, a geologic period and system that ended about 23 million years ago. 

Overall, ghost birds are fascinating and enigmatic feathered friends that have evolved unique adaptations to thrive in their nocturnal habitats while remaining hidden from both predators and potential prey.

Have you ever spotted a ghost bird in Costa Rica?
We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to news@amcostarica.com

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