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The Australian Owlet-nightjar is the smallest of the nocturnal birds (night birds) found in Australia. Its large brown eyes are non-reflective when exposed to a torch or spotlight (other nocturnal birds give a red reflection). The Owlet-nightjar has two different plumage colourations: russet-brown (rufous), and the more common grey. In both forms the birds are paler below, and are faintly barred with black. There are two wide black stripes that extend over the head from the top of the eyes, and meet on the back of the neck. The rufous form is restricted to the female birds, which, even in the grey form, tend to be more rufous-tinged than the males. Juvenile resembles adult, but has slightly softer and sometimes more finely speckled plumage, shorter tail, somewhat shorter facilial bristles, pattern on crown lacking. Young Owlet-nightjars resemble adults, but have less distinct black markings.