[JAC note: As Matthew emphasizes below, the second video is a bit gruesome, so read the notes before you watch it. As for Matthew’s Nightjar Fetish, we’re still trying to get him help.]
by Matthew Cobb
From the number of photos we’ve posted here, I think by now we’re all convinced that nightjar camouflage is pretty amazing. The reason is obvious – ground-nesting birds are living life dangerously, and need all the help they can get in keeping out of the way of predators.
But as these two striking videos from @SensoryEcology (aka Martin Stevens from Exeter University at Falmouth) show, the best visual camouflage won’t help against predators that either just stumble across your nest, or are perhaps using smell to find you (in some ground-nesting birds like red knot, there is some evidence that predators find it more difficult to detect them in the nesting season, as they adopt a chemical camouflage).
The first video shows a lesser spotted genet nomming some fiery-necked nightjar eggs in Zambia, during the night. Great for the genet, less so for the nightjar and its babies:
The second video, also taken in Kenya but of a Mozambique nightjar, may be NSFL for some of you, as it shows what happens when a bunch of ants overrun a nightjar nest and attack the chicks. What’s striking is the adult’s inability to respond in any meaningful way beyond sounding an alarm/distress call. Either it doesn’t understand what is happening, or it can’t think of anything to do. Just goes to show that not all of these feathered dinosaurs are as smart as the corvids. Martin points out in the YouTube notes that the chick didn’t survive.