No, it’s not a cartoon character, and no, we didn’t run it through a Snapchat filter. This tropical oddity, with enormous ping pong ball peepers and a ridiculously oversized mouth, is one of our planet’s most bizarre birds: the great potoo.

Standing up to 60cm tall and with a wingspan of over 70cm, the great potoo is the largest member of the Caprimulgiformes – an order of birds that includes the nightjars and frogmouths. Nocturnal by nature, the great potoo has eyes that take up much of its skull, giving it excellent night vision, while unusual slits in the eyelids help it to sense the movement of approaching predators even while asleep.

Native to South and Central America, the great potoo is a world leader at pretending to be a tree stump, spending most of its time perched upright on branches. During the day, its mottled feathers help it to hide from predators in plain sight. During the night, the bird has an excellent vantage point from which to pluck insects, such as beetles and moths, out of the air.

The great potoo is also a talented vocalist – its moaning growl sounds like an angry fox gargling a Jägerbomb. Happily, its call is likely to endure for years to come, as this avian oddball isn’t listed as a threatened species.

More like this

Read more:


Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.