New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar
(Aegotheles savesi)
This mysterious species, which has not been seen since 1998, continues to elude birdwatchers and researchers. It is known only from two specimens, which are held in museums in Liverpool, UK and Italy. The bird is endemic to the island of New Caledonia, which is in the South Pacific Ocean to the east of Australia. Compared to other owlet-nightjars, this species is larger and has longer legs, hinting at a more ground-dwelling existence. The bird has been classified as critically endangered as its population is unlikely to number more than 50 individuals. More research on the species’ ecological habits and range needs to be undertaken to inform conservation action.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Comprehensive surveys to establish the existence of this species and its current population size. Engagement of local communities in the search effort. Investigate the need for rat-control programmes.
Southern New Caledonia
First discovered after a bird flew into someone’s bedroom in 1880, the New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar was not seen again for over 100 years until its rediscovery in 1998.
Media from ARKive
Arkive image - New Caledonian owlet-nightjar, one of only two known specimens
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Aegotheliformes
Family: Aegothelidae
The Aegothelidae family is made up of 9 living species and one extinct species, all of which are owlet-nightjars belonging to the same genus Aegotheles. There has been a huge amount of debate regarding whether the family belongs to the order Apodiformes (swifts and hummingbirds) or the Caprimulgiformes (nightjars and allies). The issue remained unresolved as there was evidence to support both hypotheses. However, in the 1960s, studies on Aegothelidae skulls suggested it should form its own distinct order: the Aegotheliformes.

The New Calendonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi was previously placed as subspecies of A. cristatus in Australia, but its distinctiveness, which was already obvious morphologically, has now been genetically confirmed. A 2003 study places A. savesi at the base of the Aegothelidae phylogeny, suggesting this species was one of the first to diverge from other members of the genus, evolving in isolation on the island of New Caledonia.
The tree below shows the evolutionary relationships between this species and all other birds. The colours of the tree indicate EDGE scores with the red shades indicating the higher priority species; the bright red leaves correspond to the top 100 EDGE bird species. Further information on every species can be found by zooming in to its leaf on the tree.
The New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar is one of the larger species of owlet-nightjar. Its plumage is black and marked with dense, wavy, grey-brown lines. Like owls, owlet-nightjars have a facial disc with eyes that face forward. The tail is long and rounded at the end, and the wings are short and rounded. The legs are long and stout. Its voice has never been described although similar owlet-nightjars make whistling and churring sounds.
Very little is known about this enigmatic species, but biologists can extrapolate from other species to predict how this bird behaves. Dr Jonathan Eckstrom, the researcher that made the most recent sighting in 1998, stated that the bird was foraging for insects at dusk. From studies on other species of Aegotheles it can be presumed that A. savesi is territorial and employs a sit and wait tactic to prey on small animals. Some biologists suggest that the large size and long legs have evolved for a more ground-dwelling existence.
Sightings have been made in humid forest and areas dominated by Melaleuca plants.
Aegotheles savesi is endemic to New Caledonia. This species is only known from two specimens, one of which is held in the zoology collections of the World Museum, Liverpool and dates back to 1880. The other can be found in an Italian museum and dates back to 1915. There have been a few unconfirmed sightings since the 1950s, with the most recent being recorded in 1998 in the Ni River valley in the south of the island. However, between 2002 and 2007, expeditions to the valley have yielded no new sightings.
Population Estimate
1-49 adults
Population Trend
Critically Endangered

Little is known about the threats to this species. It is likely that invasive species such as rats and fire ants are the primary threat. Habitat loss and degradation through logging, mining and forest fires, have probably also had an influence.

Conservation Underway
The last sighting was in the Reserve Speciale de Faune et de Flore de la Ni-Kouakoue, an area which receives little conservation management. By virtue of its remote location and difficult terrain, this region of forest remains relatively intact. Other forest sites in New Caledonia are comparatively well financed, but invasive species continue to spread.
Conservation Proposed
Comprehensive surveys of suitable habitat need to be undertaken so population numbers can be established and occurrence sites protected. The search for the species could be extended to include local communities and forest workers. Research into the ecological needs of the species is required so that appropriate conservation measures, such as the control of introduced predators, can be implemented.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Aegotheles savesi. Downloaded from www.birdlife.org on 13/03/2013.

Dumbacher, J. P., Pratt, T. K. and Fleischer, R. C. (2003) Phylogeny of the owlet-nightjars (Aves: Aegothelidae) based on mitochondrial DNA sequence. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 29(3): 540–549

Olson, S. L., Balouet, C. and Fisher, C. T. (1987). The owlet-nightjar of New Caledonia, Aegotheles savesi, with comments on the systematics of the Aegothelidae. Le Gerfaut 77:341-352

Tobias, J. A. and Ekstrom, J. M. M. (2002). The New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi rediscovered? Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 122: 282-285
Text compiled by Michelle Harrison. Factchecked by Jonathan Ekstrom.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments

There are as yet no comments for this species.