Saturday, September 20, 2014

Really Weird Birds: Standard-winged Nightjar

The Standard-winged Nightjar is found in African dry savannah and scrub habitats.

Nightjars are divided into two subfamilies: “typical nightjars” with about 70 species located in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia; and “nighthawks” with about 9 species located in North and South America.

 Male standard-winged nightjar in breeding plumage. (Photo by Jan Steffan from the wikipedia files) 
Nightjars have very long pointed wings, short legs, small feet and very short beaks.  However their beaks are much wider than they are long and they can open their mouth very wide, both vertically and horizontally, in order to catch and consume insects in flight.  These birds are either nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and have very large eyes on the sides of their heads, increasing its field of vision.  They have soft feathers that are camouflaged to resemble dead leaves or bark while roosting.

The Standard-winged Nightjar is about 8-9 inches long, with a fairly short tail.  The peculiar trait of this species is that during breeding season, the males grow an extra-long primary feather on each wing reaching up to 15 inches long! The first 7-8 inches of this feather is just bare shaft.  While in normal flight, the two long feathers flutter behind and almost look like two other birds chasing the nightjar!  Click here to see what I mean.

When the males are displaying for females, the two extra long feathers are raised vertically like flags.  He will also sing an insect-like song.  Any receptive females will join in the display flight.  The male will eventually lose the ornamental feathers after breeding season; they either fall off or are broken off.  The males and females will then look the same.

This species doesn’t build nests and just lay one to two pink eggs in dirt or dead leaves.  The female incubates the eggs during the day while the male roosts nearby, and then at night they take turns incubating.  Once the chicks hatch, the male usually guards and defends the chicks.  He will hover near the nest with his body vertical and tail spread out.  Both parents will feed their young regurgitated insects.

Standard-winged Nightjars exist in a very broad range in the wild and are not considered to be an endangered or threatened species!  

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist 

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