Spot the nightjar!

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!


  1. rickflick
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Amazing Jars and Harlequin. I’ll put Peru in my list of places to see.

  2. Jim Knight
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

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

  3. W.Benson
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    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.

  4. darrelle
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    WOW(!) to both the night jar and the beetle.

  5. Posted November 2, 2015 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted November 3, 2015 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      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.

      • Posted November 3, 2015 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        This is, admittedly, the native Floridian in me speaking, but if there is a better place for viewing water fowl in their natural habitat, I’ve never heard of it.

    • merilee
      Posted November 3, 2015 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      I’m guessing that Matthew’s regular nightjars, which I can never spot, don’t have tails like this one??

      • Posted November 3, 2015 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Nope. That is the only species that I’ve seen with the extra-long plumage.

  6. Les R
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Cool bird(s) but i don’t like the look of that beetle.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted November 2, 2015 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

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

  7. John Harshman
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • John Harshman
      Posted November 2, 2015 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Well, that didn’t work. Just google Macrodipteryx longipennis and ask for images.

  8. Posted November 2, 2015 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    This is wonderful stuff! Thanks!

  9. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted November 3, 2015 at 3:53 am | Permalink

      FWIW, it resembles the harlequin bug, which also has fanciful colored eggs and nymphs. [ ]

      Perhaps an etymology that goes something like this:

      fancifully varied in color, decoration, etc.:
      harlequin pants.”

      [ ]


    • Dominic
      Posted November 3, 2015 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      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!!!

      • Posted November 3, 2015 at 4:05 am | Permalink

        …I mean the beetle…!

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted November 3, 2015 at 5:22 am | Permalink

        They are vegetarians. They do fly. Even the giant Hercules beetles can fly.

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    “Spot” is a good name for him!

  11. Hempenstein
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

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

  12. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted November 3, 2015 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    “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.

  13. Richard Bond
    Posted November 3, 2015 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    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.

  14. Posted November 3, 2015 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    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…..

  15. merilee
    Posted November 3, 2015 at 10:20 am | Permalink


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