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Steatornithidae – Oilbird

Oilbird in Ecuador: Photo by Luke Seitz

Welcome to our Steatornithidae guide! This family is represented solely by the Oilbird, a unique nocturnal bird found in South American caves. Oilbirds are known for their diet of palm and fruit oils, their ability to navigate in darkness using echolocation, and their long-distance nightly flights in search of food. These birds roost and nest in colonies within caves, feeding their chicks a nutrient-rich regurgitated paste. Discover more about the fascinating Oilbird, its behaviors, and its distinctive adaptations in our comprehensive guide.

Overview of Steatornithidae

The Oilbird is a remarkable species within an already distinctive group of birds. It is the only nocturnal bird that feeds entirely on fruit, relying on an array of unique sensory capabilities: an acute sense of smell for locating fragrant fruit, exceptionally sensitive eyes for spotting palm fruits and navigating during night flights, and a sophisticated echolocation system using vocal clicks for maneuvering through the crowded cave environments where thousands of these birds nest in colonies. The chicks are fed a diet of oily palm fruit, so rich that they were historically harvested and rendered down for lamp oil.