Spot the nightjar!

November 2, 2015 • 1:45 pm

JAC: Matthew got really excited when he found out about a species of nightjar that was new to him, and the following post reflects his enthusiasm. It is a cool bird.

by Matthew Cobb

Holly’s Tw*tter bio reads: “Conservation Biologist, Zoologist, working and studying in the remote Peruvian Amazon, previous Paraguay and Antarctica. Graduate of St Andrews University.” That’s quite a CV she has there!

Holly explained in another tw**t that she also caught the female partner of this lyre-tailed nightjar (no pic) – they had seen the pair flying together the night before.

The streamers are presumably used by females in sexual selection – there must be some link between their length and the male’s overall fitness. However, as with all such sexually-selected characters, there will come a point at which the fitness advantage that the male accrues via female mate preference is outweighed by the damage to his fitness (probably survival) caused by the sexual ornaments being too large. Without knowing anything about nightjar aerodynamics, these males look to be pretty much at the edge of what might be possible without losing the ability to fly so well.

Here’s some general biology from the Cornell neotropical birds site:

Lyre-tailed Nightjar (Uropsalis lyra) is unmistakable, with the males flaunting spectacular, pale-tipped tail streamers more than twice the bird’s body length. Uncommon and local in the Andes from Venezuela south to northwestern Argentina, this nightjar occupies gorges and most rocky cliffs, often near running water, at 2500-3000 m (and sometimes much lower). These birds roost on cliff faces and in caves, often concealed by hanging vegetation, using one roost for extended periods. Excluding the tail streamers, sexes are similar. A rufous collar extends across the nape, the scapulars are generally a pale, vermiculated gray, and the primaries solid black. Females are distinguished from female Swallow-tailed Nightjars (Uropsalis segmentata), which tend to be at higher elevations, by having a vermiculated black and gray crown (rather than a dark brown crown densely spotted with rufous) and a more prominent rufous nuchal collar. Male Lyre-tailed Nightjars forage and display nocturnally from the forest edge, with brief, fluttering sallies into the open, sometimes hovering.

Here’s an atmospheric video of a male swooping overhead in the Peruvian twilight. What a marvellous bird is the nightjar!

Here’s a male catching insects:

Here’s a male roosting during the day:

And here’s a very patient nesting female from Columbia:

And finally, to prove that it’s not all lyre-tailed nightjars out there in Peru, Holly tw**ted this stunning picture today:

JAC: I’ve encountered that species in the tropics; it’s spectacular!

25 thoughts on “Spot the nightjar!

  1. Wow, this nightjar is a little easier to see than the others! Thank you for the photos of the bird and the beetle!

  2. Temperatures near Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro right now (late afternoon, Monday) are about the same as in Chicago (22 C). Somehow it seems relevant.

  3. That was easily the least challenging spot the nightjar post in the history of WEIT.
    That’s also one of the more magnificent birds I’ve ever seen.
    I like these posts. They remind me how foolish I am to live so near to the Florida Everglades and not go hiking or bird watching out there.
    I’m meeting my new “little brother” from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America soon. I think that’ll probably be the first thing we do together.

    1. That would be a fantastic thing to do with him. Living as I do in the UK, I have only had the chance to visit the Everglades once but it was a fantastic experience with some really brilliant wildlife – much of which can be easily seen.
      If you can help instill an interest in wildlife in your “little brother” that would be a marvelous lifelong gift to him.

    1. Yeah, that’s probably not a skeletal image of Jesus on its back. More like a Dementor or Death himself.

  4. There are a number of species of nightjars that have tail feathers rather like this, all in South America, though the lyre-tailed nightjar is the most impressive. There are also a couple of African species (Genus Macrodipteryx whose ornaments are just as impressive but are part of the wings rather than the tail. Check out <a href=";.M. longipennis. And the two South American clades do not appear to be each other’s closest relatives. So, fancy long feather ornaments evolved at least three times within nightjars.

  5. I am not sure that is actually called the Harlequin beetle. It is related to another cerambycid species that goes by that name. That particular insect is even awesomer, if that is possible.

    1. What do they eat? I expect it has to be a lot. Most be hard to fly at that size? Much bigger than most bats!!!

  6. Are the lyre tails retained year-round, or do they shed and re-grow for the mating season (assuming there is one)?

  7. “spectacular, pale-tipped tail streamers more than twice the bird’s body length.”

    On this individual it looks like ~ 3 times the body length, so we may have a spectacular outlier to look at.

  8. In East Africa, the sparrow-sized male of the long-tailed widow bird (Euplectes progne) is arguably even more extreme, with a tail 60+ cm long, or five times its body length. It was the subject of a spectacular experiment in sexual selection by Malte Andersson. See: Andersson M, Female Choice Selects for Extreme Tail Length in a Widowbird, Nature 299, 818 – 820 (28 October 1982), or Chapter 8 of The Blind Watchmaker.

  9. These Lyre-tailed Nightjars live in our forests as well. Incredibly hard to video in flight like that! Very impressive.

    By the way my friend Charlie Vogt, whose Lyre-tailed Nightjar video is one you post here, recently had a screw-worm infestation in his ear, and he made a video of the live maggots being extracted. Horrible stuff! On Halloween I wrote him asking if I could send you the video for a macabre Halloween post, but he hasn’t answered yet…..

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