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Caprimulgids - The Oilbird

species oilbirds protected caves

The oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) of Trinidad and northern South America is the only species in the family Steatornithidae. This bird forages widely for its major food of oily palm nuts, and it roosts and nests in caves. The oilbird navigates inside of its pitch-black caves using echolocation, similar to bats. It rears two to four young, which are extremely fat, and at one stage of development are about 50% larger than their parents.

In the past, large numbers of fat, baby oilbirds were collected and boiled down (that is, rendered) as a source of oil for illumination and cooking. Dead young oilbirds were sometimes even impaled on a stick and used as a long-burning torch. Excessive exploitation soon threatened the oilbird, and it is now a protected species over most of its range. However, the forest habitat of oilbirds is not well protected, and deforestation represents an important threat to the species over much of its range.


Caprimulgids - Frogmouths [next]

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