Family Potoos (Nyctibiidae)

Least Concern

Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis)


French: Ibijau jamaïcain German: Mexikotagschläfer Spanish: Nictibio jamaicano

Caprimulgus jamaicensis

J. F. Gmelin

, 1789,



Sometimes considered conspecific with N. griseus; separation based on distinctly different voices. In Costa Rica, where both occur, there appear to be no constant morphological characters to distinguish the two vocal types. Type specimen of race costaricensis comes from a region in C Costa Rica where presumed that only the jamaicensis vocal type occurs, hence its placement within present species; most specimens previously attributed to costaricensis, however, including those from Caribbean slope of Nicaragua, probably represent the N. griseus vocal type. Otherwise, mainland races lambi and costaricensis doubtfully valid, probably representing extremes in clinal variation, and may be better synonymized with mexicanus#R. Race abbotti has been proposed as a separate species on grounds of clearly longer song, but number of individuals sampled unspecified. Thorough taxonomic revision needed. Five subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • N. j. lambi J. Davis, 1959 – Pacific slope of W Mexico.
  • N. j. mexicanus Nelson, 1900 – E & S Mexico S to El Salvador and Honduras, including Roatán I (off N Honduras).
  • N. j. costaricensis Ridgway, 1912 – Pacific slope of N & C Costa Rica, possibly also W Nicaragua.
  • N. j. jamaicensis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – Jamaica.
  • N. j. abbotti Richmond, 1917 – Hispaniola and Gonâve I.
  • Presence in W Cuba (subspecies undetermined) now confirmed by various observations#R.

    Descriptive notes

    38–44 cm; 210–282 g. The only potoo occurring in the West Indies; in Middle America range partially overlaps that of considerably larger and much paler N.... read more


    Song, in quality like that of N. grandis, but in pattern like that of N. griseus... read more


    Forest edge and open areas near forest or with scattered trees, including parks and farmland, even... read more

    Food and feeding

    Feeds on flying insects of all sizes, including Coleoptera, Homoptera, Hemiptera, Orthoptera, Lepidoptera and Neuroptera; one bird recorded... read more


    Adults with enlarged gonads in Feb–Apr in Mexico and Belize; one May egg in Mexico; unfledged young in May in Mexico, Guatemala and... read more


    Presumed mainly sedentary; individual vagrants twice found on islands of Mona and Desecheo off... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Fairly common (e.g. in Jamaica) to rare and possibly local, but poorly known. In danger of extirpation in El Salvador; presumed... read more

    Recommended citation

    Cohn-Haft, M. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis). 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 3 April 2020).