Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bird of the Month: Oilbird

The Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) is probably one of the most interesting and weird bird species of the Neotropic.  It is so distinctive that is the sole member of the Steatornithidae family, the only frugivorous night bird and one of the few that uses echolocation while flying in the dark (sharing this characteristic with some Aerodramus swifts).  The common name refers to the nestlings, that deposit fat reserves and can be 50% heavier than adults before fledging.  In fact, Steatornis literally means "oil bird"; caripensis, refers to the Caripe region in Venezuela, where Alexander von Humboldt first described it in 1799.
Oilbird.  Photo by Osvaldo Quintero (used with permission)
Better known from South America, there are several records of Oilbirds from Panama and Costa Rica as well.  No colonies have been found so far in these countries, but the possibility of a cave full of "Guácharos" -the common Spanish name- somewhere in eastern Panama is fascinating.  Here in Panama, most of the records are from the Chagres river basin (where the above photo was taken), Panama City (where I took the photo below) and eastern Darien province (three records).  It is still considered a vagrant in our country, but there are more and more reports, now in an annual basis.  For these, and many other reasons, is why we chose the Oilbird as our Bird of the Month!
Oilbird at Panama City
Literature consulted:
1. Del Risco A, Echeverri A. Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis), Neotropical Birds Online (T.S. Schulenberg, Ed). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: 2011.
2.  Angehr G, Dean R. The Birds of Panama. A Field Guide. Zona Tropical: 2010.
3.  Ridgely R, Gwynne J. A Guide to the Birds of Panama. Princeton University Press: 1989.


  1. Interesante Jan! Una observación: Los aves del género (Aerodramus) son capaces también de producir ecolocación. Saludos