The Oilbird: Is This Thing Even a Bird?
You know the type: They go out after sundown and return again in the morning, and regurgitate whatever they may have ingested during the night. Then they sleep all day and whine at the tiniest sliver of light. They’re almost never caught alone, preferring to gather in large, single-minded groups. Their attempts to grow facial hair are pitiful, but they keep on trying. And they’re always thinking about food. That’s right: I’m talking about Oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis), the only nocturnal, fruit-eating birds in the world! (Other acceptable answers include “my college roommate” or any combination of Greek letters.)
In truth, it’s not quite fair to put the Oilbird in such dubious company—the guácharo, as the bird is known in its native South America, actually has a lot going for it, including the story of its brush with none other than Alexander Von Humboldt, famed Prussian naturalist. In 1799, not long into his Latin American expedition, Humboldt led his outfit into the low-lying Caripe mountains of eastern Venezuela, where they briefly stayed at a Capuchin mission. During their visit, the monks talked Humboldt’s ear off about a nearby cave that was occupied by thousands of nocturnal birds. So he decided to see it for himself.