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Potoo: a little-known bird, but a legendary species
Fernando Igor de Godoy, Folha de Florianópolis, Feb. 2022

With modest plumage, resembling a branch, but little known. This is the potoo or mother-of-the-moon as it is called in some places in Brazil. During the day, it remains motionless on the edges of branches and fence posts, often going unnoticed by most people. But that is precisely its intention! The Potoo (Nyctibius griseus) is a nocturnal bird that rests during the day. To avoid predators, it uses a unique camouflage: it "pretends" to be the continuation of branches. Thus, the urutau remains motionless throughout the day, maintaining an upright posture and relying on its camouflage.

urutau mãe-da-lua Nyctibius
urutau mãe-da-lua Nyctibius

At night, as opposed to during the day, the potoo is quite active. In flight, it opens its giant mouth to catch insects, and its large yellow eyes are also instrumental in helping the species locate its prey.

Although few people are aware of it, the Urutau is not a rare bird. On the contrary, it is found throughout Brazil and in various types of plant formations. It can be observed in trees in pastures, forest edges, and even urban areas, as long as there are trees and perches for it to land on. At night, if you listen carefully in a forest during the period when the bird is in your region (as there are studies that suggest the Urutau is migratory), you can easily hear its song. However, spotting the bird during the day is quite challenging, which is why it remains relatively unknown.

If all the curious facts about the Potoo during the day weren't enough, there are also several legends that reference its nocturnal habits. The main reason is its singing, which is often described as melancholic and frightening to many. It is said that the Urutau sings more on moonlit nights (hence the name "Mother's Moon"), which may be linked to the increased clarity during such nights, as well as the fact that typically, rainy conditions are less prevalent on nights when the moon is visible.

As most people are unaware of this bird, hearing its "dark" song often serves as the inspiration for many stories.

There are other species of Potoo, belonging to an order that is found exclusively in Latin America. Some are strictly forest-dwelling and require preserved areas for their survival. However, they all share the same characteristic of camouflaging themselves to resemble branches and adopting an upright posture.

How about trying to spot an Urutau in your vicinity?

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