Family Oilbird (Steatornithidae)

Least Concern

Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis)


French: Guacharo des cavernes German: Fettschwalm Spanish: Guácharo

Steatornis caripensis


, 1817,

Caripe, Venezuela


Shows some owl-like features, but nowadays generally considered to be a caprimulgiform. Regarded as an early offshoot within the order, possibly closest to Nyctibiidae and Caprimulgidae. Molecular analyses inconclusive; sometimes thought to be a sister-group to Nyctibiidae#R. Birds from Peru described as race peruvianus, but appear to be undiagnosable. Monotypic.


Panama and Colombia E to Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana and N Brazil, and S to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; recorded also in Costa Rica, Tobago and Surinam#R.

Descriptive notes

40–49 cm; 255–485 g. Rich chestnut-brown all over with numerous white spots and diamonds edged with black; paler below with smaller white diamonds; large white... read more


Orientates within dark caves by means of echolocation clicks, which sound like castanets and are... read more


Diurnal roosting and breeding takes place in caves and grottos, usually in mountainous areas of... read more

Food and feeding

Feeds entirely on fruits: mainly of palms (Arecaceae, e.g. Bactris, Euterpe, Geonoma, Oenocarpus and... read more


Attempt takes 4–5 months, starting at end of dry season and in NE Venezuela coinciding with maximum Lauraceae fruit availability:... read more


Post-breeding dispersal from continental South American caves; some nomadism particularly by... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Colonies have survived long history of predation by man of nestlings for fat in all range countries (see Family Text). At present,... read more

Recommended citation

Thomas, B.T. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis). 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 16 July 2019).