I studied the systematic relationships of the three large owlet-nightjars (Aegothelidae) to determine the taxonomic status of a fawn-colored lowland form currently classified as Aegotheles insignis tatei. I examined most of the existing specimens of A. i. insignis (n = 158) and A. crinifrons (n = 23) and all known specimens of A. i. tatei (n = 4). I also examined specimens of A. albertisi (n = 70), A. archboldi (n = 25), A. bennettii (n = 55), A. cristatus (n = 50), A. savesi (n = 1), and A. wallacii (n = 21). Aegotheles i. tatei was distinguishable from A. i. insignis and A. crinifrons by its small size and in seven plumage characters. Aegotheles i. tatei was further distinguishable from one or the other of these taxa by four additional characters. Unique among owlet-nightjars, A. i. tatei has the shortest tarsi, does not have recurved filamentous tips on its facial feathers, and has stiffer feathers on the auricular area and throat. My search of museums revealed two new specimens of A. i. tatei, expanding the known geographic range of this taxon 1,000 km eastward along the southern coast of Papua New Guinea from the upper Fly River to Nunumai, near the Ulamanu River. Unlike the montane A. i. insignis, A. i. tatei inhabits lowland forests where rivers emerge from foothills of the main cordillera. I propose that tatei be elevated to species status and that the name Starry Owlet-Nightjar be adopted based on the bird's markings. Aegotheles crinifrons, A. insignis, and A. tatei pass through a previously unrecognized but distinctive rufous juvenal plumage. These are the only owlet-nightjars known to exhibit this plumage, which calls for reexamination of generic limits within the Aegothelidae.
Additional publication details
Evidence for a previously unrecognized species of owlet-nightjar