Nightjars, also known as goatsuckers, rank pretty high up on the list of birds with unusual or silly names (other strange favs include Bushtits, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and the tiny Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet). One April my wife and I were on a beautiful Texas Gulf Coast beach. Most people were sunning themselves in their swimsuits or splashing in the waves, but we were studying some distant seabirds through our telescope. A woman came by and asked us what we were looking at. I replied absently “Brown Boobies,” at which point she shot me this really disgusted look and stalked off. By the time I realized what she must have been thinking, she was gone down the beach.
Anyhow, back to nightjars. We have a number of different species in the US (including Whip-poor-wills, Chuck-will’s-widow, and various Nighthawks), but the only one commonly found in Texas in the winter is the Common Pauraque. Pauraques, like other goatsuckers, are active at night – mainly feeding on insects. During the day they find a place to roost on the ground, usually in or near some brush or undergrowth. Of course, sleeping on the ground during the day can be highly hazardous to one’s health, particularly if you are a plump, tasty-looking Pauraque. So they have evolved an incredible camouflage to blend in with the forest floor.
Here’s a shot of a Pauraque hiding from me in plain sight (from Estero Llano State Park). Can you spot it?
Pretty tough to see, huh? It was sleeping less than five feet from the trail, yet I totally missed it from this vantage point. Ok, there are a few distracting sticks in the way. Here is a less obstructed view:
The Pauraque doesn’t blend in quite as well from this angle, and you probably saw it there on the left side of the photo. With this in mind, can you go back to the first photo and find it now?
Here’s a close-up showing the exquisite plumage details. Amazing. I was careful to stay on the main path so as not to flush this sleeping beauty.