Annotated bibliography on two species of Potoo birds for the Mayan areas of Mesoamerica

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Birds of Guatemala: Two Species of Nyctibiu, Potoo, inhabit the Mayan Area

So far these birds have not been noticed in Mayan art nor in Mayan mythology. Nonetheless, the bird has such a comical appearance that it is worth learning about.

There are two species of potoo:

  • Nyctibius griseus, Common Potoo
  • Nyctibius jamaicensis, Northern Potoo

Nyctibius jamaicensis is listed for Palenque (Patten et al: 2011: 524).

Both species of potoo are present in Belize (Jones 2004: 129). But only the Common Potoo, Nyctibius griseus, is listed for Chiapas (del Toro 1980: 98 and Lamina 36, Fig. 1). The Common Potoo is listed for Tikal, Peten (Smithe 1966: 86-88).

No potoo is listed for Copan Ruinas, Honduras, though since a potoo is a master at camouflage, perhaps simply they have not yet been noticed.

Bibliography of Potoo birds in Mesoamerica

  • ALVAREZ del Toro, Miguel
  • 1980
  • Las aves de Chiapas. Universidad Autonoma de Chiapas. 272 pages.






  • JONES, H. Lee
  • 2004
  • Birds of Belize. Helm Field Guides. 317 pages.


  • LAND, Hugh C.
  • 1963
  • A Collection of Birds from the Caribbean Lowlands of Guatemala. The Condor. Vol. 65, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 1963), pp. 49-65.

    Available online:



  • NELSON, E. W.
  • 1900
  • Descriptions of Thirty New North American Birds, in the Biological Survey Collection. The Auk, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 253-270. Oxford University Press

    Nyctibius jamaicensis mexicanus, is mentioned on page 260

    Free download:


  • PATTEN, Michael A., GOMEZ de Silva, Héctor, IBARRA, Ana C. and Brenda D. SMITH-Patten
  • 2011
  • An annotated list of the avifauna of Palenque, Chiapas, Lista comentada de la avifauna de Palenque, Chiapas. Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 82: 515-537, 2011.


  • PERRY, Donald R.
  • 1979
  • The Great Potoo in Costa Rica. Condor, 81:320-321, The Cooper Ornithological Societ



  • RANGEL-Salazar J. L., TERCERO, R. and P. L. ENRÍQUEZ
  • 1991
  • The great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis) as a probable resident in Southern Mexico. Ornitología Neotropical 2: 38-39. The Neotropical Ornithological Society.



  • SMITHE, Frank B.
  • 1966
  • The Birds of Tikal. Natural History Press. 350 pages.
  • VILLASEÑOR-Gómez, Laura E., PINEDA-Huerta, Francisco R. and José Fernando VILLASEÑOR-Gómez
  • 2013
  • Diversidad de aves en la subcuenca del río Cupatitzio, Michoacán, México. HUITZIL Vol. 14, No. 2, Avifaunas e inventarios.

    Available online:

Web Sites on Birds of Mesoamerica
Listado de Aves para la Región de Copán.
Good photo(s). Good map of where the bird can be found.
The site itself has only two photos but they have an impressive series of photos from elsewhere on this page; excellent photos.

Pinterest has awesome photos of the Potoo, called Urutau in some countries (Urutau Comun, Nyctibius griseus). If you Google Urutau Comun you get many photos with the bird’s wide mouth totally open. If you Google Nyctibius griseus you get a slightly different set of photos.

If you as an individual or your group wish a field trip with Dr Nicholas (Hellmuth) he knows some of the best experienced “bird finders” in pertinent parts of Guatemala. Nicholas himself is not an ornithologist but a major section in his PhD dissertation was on waterbirds in Classic Maya art (published as a coffee table book). Since then, he has done field work throughout Guatemala to photograph waterbirds. Now he is looking for the Laughing Falcon (also called the Snake Hawk) since this is one of the birds that is the origin for the “Principal Bird Deity” in Early Classic and Late Classic Mayan art. You can experience the Nikon D5 camera and Canon EOS 1Dx Mark II camera and learn how these cameras can improve your bird photography. These are field trips, not tour group tours. Dr Nicholas lived for 12 months in Tikal already at age 19 (in 1965) and spent several years creating the Parque Nacional Yaxha in the 1970s. The bird watching guides also also know orchids, bromeliads and other Neotropical flowers of the rain forests and wetlands of Guatemala.. Dr Nicholas has been studying utilitarian plants of the Mayan culture for many years, so this field trip includes both Neotropical birds and also Neotropical flowers.


First posted June, 2020

PNYNN and Livingston reports

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