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A photo of a Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus)
Australian Owlet-nightjar

Australian Owlet-nightjar

Aegotheles cristatus

The Australian owlet-nightjar, known colloquially as the moth owl, is a nocturnal avian species with a small to medium build. It exhibits grey upperparts and a white, barred front, with a distinctive patterning of dark and pale on its head. In the northern reaches of Australia, the female may present a rufous morph, while desert populations tend to have paler plumage.

Identification Tips

To identify this species, look for its pointed wings and larger feet, which are adaptations for life in open woodlands. The contrasting head pattern and barred front are key visual markers. The rufous morph of the female is particularly notable in the northern areas.


The Australian owlet-nightjar is well-adapted to a variety of habitats, including open woodlands, mangrove swamps, grasslands, mallee scrub, and dense forests. Its versatility is evident as it thrives across these diverse environments.


This species is widespread across Australia and extends into southern New Guinea. It holds the title of the most common nocturnal bird on the Australian continent.


By night, the Australian owlet-nightjar is an agile hunter, diving from perches to snatch insects mid-air, off the ground, or from tree trunks and branches. It exhibits flycatcher-like behavior and is also known to feed on the wing. During daylight hours, it seeks refuge in tree hollows to evade predators and to avoid being harassed by diurnal birds.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Australian owlet-nightjar is predominantly insectivorous, with a preference for beetles, grasshoppers, and ants. Its hunting strategy is well-suited to capturing a variety of insect prey.


Breeding pairs nest primarily in tree hollows, lining their nests with leaves, which may serve as an insecticide due to the presence of eucalyptus leaves. The female lays three to four eggs and incubates them for just under a month. Both parents are involved in feeding the chicks, which fledge after a month and remain close to the parents for several months thereafter.

Similar Species

While there are no specific similar species mentioned, the Australian owlet-nightjar can be distinguished from other nightjars by its habitat preferences and distinctive patterning.

Conservation status

The species is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, indicating that, despite facing predation and competition from introduced species, it is not considered to be at risk of extinction.

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