Family Owlet-nightjars (Aegothelidae)

Least Concern

Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus)


French: Égothèle d’Australie German: Baumschwalm Spanish: Egotelo australiano

Caprimulgus cristatus


, 1790,

New South Wales = Sydney area


Apparently a close relative of A. bennettii, and formerly considered conspecific; A. affinis (which see) sometimes erroneously included within present species. Variation complex, but much of it clinal, with largest birds in N of range and cline from darkest in SE to palest in NW Australia (N birds sometimes recognized as races leucogaster and/or rufus); population in S New Guinea formerly separated as race major, but appears to represent no more than end-point of size cline of nominate cristatus, being on average only marginally larger than N Queensland birds and within range of colour variation of latter; several other races listed in old literature (e.g. murchisonianus from Western Australia, olivei from Queensland, melvillensis from Northern Territory, centralia from N South Australia) are based on individual or polymorphic variation in coloration. Two subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. c. cristatus (Shaw, 1790) – SE New Guinea between Oriomo R and Tarara (Port Moresby region); Australia.
  • A. c. tasmanicus Mathews, 1918 – Tasmania.
  • Descriptive notes

    21–25 cm; 35–65 g. The only owlet-nightjar in Australia, but species could be confused with any one of several congenerics in SE New Guinea, especially A.... read more


    Much the commonest call, given by both sexes and year-round, is a rather high-pitched, grating,... read more


    Open woodland, trees along water­courses, shrublands of Eucalyptus and Acacia... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet consists mainly of wide variety of small insects, with records of Dictyoptera (Blattodea), Coleoptera, Dermaptera, Hemiptera,... read more


    Season apparently the same throughout Australia, with eggs laid mostly Aug–Dec. Probably mates for life. Single-brooded; reports of... read more


    Apparently sedentary and permanently territorial throughout its range; territory perhaps rarely... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Widespread in Australia and moderately common over much of its range, e.g. the commonest bird encountered by nocturnal surveys in SE New South Wales... read more

    Recommended citation

    Holyoak, D.T. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 29 February 2020).