Friday, 15 January 2010

Owlet nightjars

I do not like full-flash photographs of night animals as that is not how I see them or remember my experiences with them. So here is a shot of an owlet nightjar as it emerged from its roost just as the last light was fading away. They can be found by listening for calls which they give as they prepare to leave their hollows. Then when they fly off they really take on spectral form as they slip silently through the trees.

I have been out on a few evenings/nights recently watching owlet nightjars. These are not owls, nightjars or frogmouths, but are in a family of their own. Taxonomists still debate where they fit.

Wherever they fit, they resemble owls with their large almost forward-facing eyes and their habit of nesting and roosting in tree hollows. Their bodies are similar to the slender true nightjars, but their feet and legs are stronger, enabling them to sit across branches and climb in and out of holes. And their wide bills with side-bristles also resemble nightjars, or perhaps swifts and some claim these are their closest relatives.

My interest in them comes from their main habitat - woodland, which they share with frogmouths. Both species live in the same woods and seem to forage in similar styles by pouncing on prey from a lookout perch, or rummaging around in the leaf litter. Do they successfully co-habit because they eat different prey, differentiated mainly by size? I would like to know. One advantage the owlet nightjars have over the frogmouths is that they can expand their range beyond woodland and live in man-made hollows or in rock crevices. As frogmouths rely on their camouflage for safety when roosting during the day, they need trees (see earlier postings).

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