Tetrapod Zoology

Nightjars of Madagascar

i-f246083ae2291c51270ec94a07f52346-Caprimulgus enarratus resized.jpg

Another busy week, so no time yet to finish any new articles, sorry. The photo here – kindly supplied by Mary Blanchard – depicts the little-known Collared nightjar Caprimulgus enarratus, a Madagascan endemic associated with humid evergreen forest and primary lowland forest (though it has also recently been reported from mangroves and brush forest). Its broad rufous collar is distinctive, and it is easily distinguished from the paler, more streaky-patterned Madagascar nightjar C. madagascariensis (these two are the only nightjars on Madagascar). The cryptic patterning deserves no comment, other than this one, and note the chick (this adult had two, as is typical for the species). Adults apparently sit tight when brooding or guarding young, but if approached too closely will gape and hiss, lift the wings, and eventually perform an injury-feigning display. This sort of thing is typical for nightjars, and in fact some even perform injury-feigning in flight, deliberately pretending to have difficulty in flying (Cleere & Nurney 1998). One last thing: nightjars have been recorded to eat all sorts of crap, ranging from small stones and twigs to sand, bits of bark and leaves (Jenkinson & Mengel 1970). Why?

Refs – –

Cleere, N. & Nurney, D. 1998. Nightjars: A Guide to Nightjars and Related Nightbirds. Pica Press, Mountfield.

Jenkinson, M. A. & Mengel, R. M. 1970. Ingestion of stones by goatsuckers (Caprimulgidae). Condor 72, 236-237.


  1. #1 Mark Lees
    May 23, 2008

    Nightjars are wonderful birds. One of my all time best bird watching experiences was encountering at close range a male pennant-winged nightjar on a night safari in Zambia. It flew up in front of the landcruiser with the vehicle lights lighting up its pale underside, as it had fully developed wing-extensions it looked incredible and somewhat freaky. With the pennants on the wings it was not like any other bird I had seen (I had seen Standard-winged Nightjar in Gambia previously, but due to the season the males didn’t have the wing extensions well developed).
    I also recall almost treading on a nightjar in India – it was the same colour as the dust it was lying in and remained absolutley still, only the eyes really gave it away.

  2. #2 Mary Blanchard
    May 23, 2008

    I remember that was one of the few days when I left my camera in camp and I had to run all the way back to get it. Afterwards I realised she wasn’t going anywhere and I could have just sauntered back! We only found her as she was resting on a trail and Sabine, my Malagasy assistant, almost stepped on her. She flew up in Sabine�s face, before settling back down with her chicks. I saw nightjar a few times when I was in Mantadia, but I guess they are hard to spot if you look for them � as were the indri I was trying to find that day!

  3. #3 Darren Naish
    May 23, 2008

    Thanks for comments. Mary: exactly where is Mantadia (I can’t find it on a map). I’m wondering if you’ve documented the species in a new area.

  4. #4 Neil
    May 23, 2008

    Wow there so well camoflaged its almost like one of those magic eye pictures. Interesting stuff. Ive been to a couple o localitys that have nightjars, but unsuprisingly have never seen one!

  5. #5 Darren Naish
    May 23, 2008

    Neil, we should go find them in the New Forest some time (I know people who know where to find them). I saw one in the NF in May 2006 – it actually flew straight past me in broad daylight, I couldn’t believe it.

  6. #6 Mary Blanchard
    May 23, 2008

    Mantadia NP is a little north of Perinet/Andasibe, on the road from Tana to Tamatave, a little further east than Moramanga – I should send you a copy of my thesis so you can see exactly where I lived for a year! Nightjars were known from the park, they were on the ANGAP bird list for Mantadia (both species were), so no new location I am afraid!
    Would love to see nightjar in this country.

  7. #7 Mo Hassan
    May 23, 2008

    Maybe they eat that stuff to help their camouflage? No, OK.

  8. #8 Barn Owl
    May 23, 2008

    Lovely photo…with nightjars it’s almost always a game of “Where’s Whip-poor-will?”

    This morning, just before dawn, I could hear a Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis) calling; there’s a live oak/mesquite/mountain cedar woodland nearby. We have several nightjar relatives here in South Texas, in addition to the Pauraque: Common and Lesser Nighthawks, Common Poorwills, Chuck-will’s-widows, and Whip-poor-wills. Common Nighthawks often nest on the flat roofs of buildings, even in the city, and their low-flying pursuit of insects can lead to an untimely death. The other day I found part of the wing of a Common Nighthawk, which had likely been killed by a car.

    Amusing that the Cleere and Nurney book is published by Pica Press, since “pica” is the word used to describe humans eating crap, such as sand, clay, laundry starch, etc.

  9. #9 Neil
    May 23, 2008

    Sounds like a plan Darren! Im sure richard would wish to come along as well! I must try and sort out a visit to Portsmouth with Richard this summer

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    May 24, 2008

    We have several nightjar relatives here in South Texas, in addition to the Pauraque: Common and Lesser Nighthawks, Common Poorwills, Chuck-will’s-widows, and Whip-poor-wills.

    Oh, so that’s what nighthawks are… <lightbulb position=”above head”>

    crap, such as sand, clay, laundry starch

    Isn’t laundry starch starch and thus edible? Also, Pica pica is the magpie (the real one, not the Australian ones).

  11. #11 Graham King
    May 25, 2008

    I tried to find that reference for more info on their assorted swallowings but may be naively searching in the wrong way. Found it cited only, online.

    Anyway here are my musings on some possible reasons to consider:

    -Mechanical aid to digestion (for grinding food, or roughage).
    -Chemical aid to digestion.
    -Microbial aid to digestion (ingest leaf litter to enrich gut flora).
    -Self-medication (as source: of needed elements/vitamins, or as sink: for detox).
    -Taste, or other stimulation.
    -Curiosity/experiment/novelty/play (try-it-and-see).
    -Something else…

    Whatever, it will likely reward investigation!

  12. #12 Jerzy
    May 26, 2008

    1. Stone-eating. Mistake in the darkness? Nightjars, contrary to their names like German “Nachtschwalbe” or “night swallow”, often hunt insects on the ground.

    2. REALLY Really, really, lets somebody make DNA phylogeny of nightjars. They are all visually similar and likely to have cryptic species and wrongly named species. Recent discovery that Solomon Islands subspecies of a frogmouth is in fact a new genus is example. And at least two nightjar species (Nechisar and Vauries) are long suspected to be ID mistakes.

  13. #13 Jerzy
    May 26, 2008

    BTW – any nightjar-lover could take head torch giving white light. Then you discover incredible eye-shine of nightjar and can follow them. E.g. you discover that nightjars often “fly-catch” from a perch, and can run fast on the ground.

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