The Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis)
The widespread nightjar that breeds in the warmer parts of the New World (the Americas) from the very southern Texas (USA) southward to northern Argentina. This is one of the most common New World nightjars. The nightjar is also often simply referred to as Pauraque.
This nightjar, as suggested by the name, is strictly nocturnal. Throughout the day, it typically rests quietly in densely vegetated hiding places – ideally forests. At night, they become active as
they hunt flying insects in more open landscapes, such as forest clearings, wetlands, and along rivers.
Due to their cryptic appearance, these birds blend perfectly into their habitat and they are very difficult to spot during the daytime when they are usually hidden away sleeping. They are most easily detected at night when light from car headlights is reflected red from their eyes, as they are sitting on tracks or roads. However, their presence is most often made known by their loud calls given at dusk.
Distribution / Range
The Common Pauraque occurs from southern Texas through northeastern Mexico and Central America, south to northwestern Peru, Bolivia, and northern Argentina (Paraná River region). Most populations are residents throughout the year; however, the subspecies that occur in the northern range — the Nyctidromus albicollis merrilli – may migrate south to winter in eastern Mexico.
This species has been recorded to occur in the following countries:
Argentina; Belize; Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Costa Rica; Ecuador; El Salvador; French Guiana; Guatemala; Guyana; Honduras; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; United States; Uruguay; Venezuela.
The Pauraques occur in a variety of mixed habitats, including wooded areas, grasslands, scrubland, agricultural fields, semi-arid regions, llanos (a vast tropical grassland plain), marshes, mangrove swamps, and around human habitation.
They favor more dense vegetation during the day and open habitats at night.
The Pauraque is more terrestrial than most of the other members of the nightjar family. Rather than taking flight when disturbed, it may sometimes run away from danger. Even though their short legs are hardly visible under normal conditions, they can leap nearly two feet off the ground to catch low-flying insects. They also chase prey on the ground.
They are often observed resting on roads and tracks at night, when the light reflected by its eyes can be seen from quite some distance; or they chase flying insects low overhead.
The Master of Camouflage:
The Pauraque benefits from its camouflaging plumage that fits in well with the color of undergrowth and disappears against the ground.
A behavioral defensive technique is to flatten itself against the ground making itself even more “invisible” to potential predators. If the intruder gets too close for its comfort, it will flush from the hunkered-down position.
When perching on a branch, it usually perches length-wise, which also helps its camouflage.
Subspecies and Ranges
Seven subspecies differ in size, greyness of the plumage, and range.
- Nyctidromus albicollis albicollis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – Nominate Race
- Range: East and south Venezuela, Trinidad, the Guianas, North and northeastern Brazil. Possibly eastern and southern Colombia and Ecuador south to northern Bolivia.
- Nyctidromus albicollis albicollis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – Nominate Race
- Nyctidromus albicollis derbyanus (Gould, 1838)
- Range: Central and southern Brazil into the adjacent parts of Bolivia; through Paraguay into Argentina and Uruguay
- Nyctidromus albicollis gilvus (Bangs, 1902)
- Range: Central and eastern Panama and northern Colombia. Possibly to western Venezuela.
- Nyctidromus albicollis insularis (Nelson, 1898)
- Range: Tres Marías Islands (off west Mexico).
- Nyctidromus albicollis intercedens (Griscom, 1929)
- Range: Southern Guatemala south to Costa Rica and western Panama.
- Nyctidromus albicollis merrily (Sennett, 1888)
- Range: Extreme southern USA (Texas) and northeastern Mexico.
- Nyctidromus albicollis yucatanensis (Nelson, 1901)
- Range: West and eastern Mexico (including the Yucatan Peninsula) south to Belize and central Guatemala.
Alternate (Global) Names
Czech: Lelek belotemenný, lelek šedo?elý … Danish: Spraglet Natravn … Dutch: Pauraque … German: Pauraque, Pauraque Nachtschwalbe, Pauraquenachtschwalbe … English: Common Pauraque, Merrill’s Paraque, Merrill’s Parauque, Merrill’s Pauraque, Parauque, Pauraque, White-collared Cuejo, White-naped Nightjar … Estonian: paurake-öösorr … Finnish: Kauluskehrääjä … French: Engoulevent montvoyau, Engoulevent pauraqué … Italian: Pauraque, Succiacapre collobianco … Japanese: ooyotaka … Norwegian: Pauraquenattravn … Polish: lelkowiec bialoszyi, lelkowiec bia?oszyi … Portuguese: acurana, acuráu, acuraua, amanhã-eu-vou, Bacurau, coriavo, curiango, Curiango-comum, curiangú, curiávo, joão-corta-pau, mari-angú, mede-léguas … Russian: ?????????? ???????, ???????-?????? … Slovak: Lelek paurake … Spanish: Atajacaminos de collar blanco, Bujío, Chotacabras Pauraque, Curiango, Pocoyo Tapacaminos, Pucuyo coliblanco, Tapacaminos Común, Tapacaminos Picuyo … Swedish: Azteknattskärra
The Pauraque is a medium-sized nightjar that measures 22–30 cm (8.7–11.8 inches) in length (including the long, rounded tail) and has a wingspan of 44 – 46 cm (~ 17 – 18 inches). The average weight is 53 g (1.9 oz).
This nightjar has a large head with a tiny bill, giving it a very “cryptic” appearance. Its plumage is patterned in various tones of brown/grey tones and black, which serves as perfect camouflage on the forest floor covered in decaying vegetation and undergrowth. Its feet are tiny for a bird of this size and are hardly ever seen. They have beige ‘eye rings’ and ‘facial stripes’, as well as a greyish chin, all of which contrast with the reddish sides of the face. The underplumage is otherwise mostly dark grey with stripes of beige.
In flight, their long, broad, rounded wings with bold white bars near the tip can be seen. The sides of the tails are also white.
Two Color Morphs Occur:
- One lighter-colored, variegated greyish-brown plumage; One darker-colored variation – with an overall more reddish-brown coloration.
- The adult male has a white bar near the wing tips and his outer tail feathers are mostly white.
- The female’s wing bars are narrower and she has much more restricted white outer tail patches.
- resemble the adults, but the plumage is generally more blurred.
Diet / Feeding
Pauraques hunt flying insects from the ground or a favorite perch. It feeds on a variety of insects, such as moths, ground beetles, bees beetles, long-horned beetles (Cerambicids), leaf beetles (Chrysomelids), and fireflies (Lampyrids). They catch flying insects mid-air, often by flycatching from a low perch.
They have special physical adaptations that facilitate foraging at night and catching prey in mid-air, for example:
- The beak has evolved to be much wider than it is long, and it opens wide both – vertically as well as horizontally. The resulting big gaping mouth allows it to more easily scoop up insects in flight.
- Its large eyes are placed on each side of the head (laterally) – which significantly increases its visual field.
- A reflective membrane behind the retina (tapetum) enhances its vision at night by augmenting the light-gathering ability of its eyes.
- They also have forward-facing whiskers that may either help them funnel food into the mouth or protect the eyes.
Nesting / Breeding
Unlike most other bird species, the Pauraque doesn’t construct a nest. The eggs are usually simply laid on the ground on fallen leaves near a bush or a tree. A clutch consists of 1 to 3 elongated and elliptical pinkish-colored eggs with buff spotting. The Incubation period ranges from 19 to 20 days and is carried out by both parents.
The hatchlings are covered with light down and can move around soon after hatching. The young often fall prey to smallish mammals, such as cats, dogs, and Common Marmosets (small monkeys) – depending on the wildlife that occurs naturally in their area.
Calls / Vocalizations
At dusk and dawn in particular, you can hear the male’s whistled, rising-falling whe-wheeee-oo whe-wheeee-oo (“who-r-you”) calls in open areas. Their call repertoire also includes soft puk puk and whip sounds given in the courtship flight as the male flutters over the female.
The female’s call is described as a rapid succession of whip sounds.
The Pauraque song is one of the commonest night sounds within the range of this bird.
The Pauraque is currently not globally threatened and is listed as a Species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This adaptable species will tolerate human disturbance of habitat quite well and has benefitted from logging, as it created areas of low and secondary growth that allow these birds to hunt more efficiently. This being said, they will leave heavily built-up areas.
As ground nesters, they are vulnerable to predation by cats dogs, and other mammals, and they have disappeared where these animals are abundant.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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