The Australian Owlet-nightjar is a relatively common bird throughout much of Australia. With an overall size of 21-25cm it is our smallest nocturnal bird. In fact, the first time I saw this birds I was amazed at how tiny it really was. This individual was perched in full sunlight on a branch of a tree in a neighbour’s garden. This is something they will do occasionally. Normally they roost in the hollows of trees.
Despite being widespread in Australia, I suspect few people will have ever seen one, mainly because of their nocturnal habits. Their size may account for them often being overlooked too. I suspect that quite a few people may have heard this species but have no idea what was making the call. Its chirr-chirr call is a sound many Australians will have heard when out at night, especially in more rural areas, or when camping out bush away from traffic noises. Another common observation of this species would be a fleeting glance of one flying through the headlight beams of cars travelling country roads at night. Most people probably would dismiss it as a very large moth.
Resident in our garden?
At present I am thinking that this species is resident in our garden. Over recent weeks I have heard it calling on many occasions, often an hour or so after sunset. I usually head outdoors, torch in hand, trying to track it down. The fact that their eyes do not reflect torchlight makes the quest just that little bit harder.
More puzzling, however, is hearing the call during the daylight hours, usually just the once and quite close to the house. A little research indicates that they sometimes do this. It has happened three or four times in the last week or so. Whenever I go out pursuing this lovely bird trying to get a photo, I have no idea where to start looking – apart from the obvious tree hollows nearby. It’s all very frustrating.
UPDATE: I finally got to see one in our garden – and get a photo what’s more. To read about click here.
- Great Birding Moments – Spotted Nightjar – an article and photo about a close encounter with another nightjar species.
- Spotted Nightjar
- Birds in Backyards: Australian Owlet-nightjar – this article includes a photo, a painting and a map of distribution.
The photo below shows a related species, the Spotted Nightjar. (Click on the photo to enlarge the image.)
Yesterday I visited the Pangarinda Arboretum at Wellington East. This arboretum is about 30km south of Murray Bridge South Australia (or about 90km SE of Adelaide). For the last four weeks a single Spotted Nightjar has been roosting in the one location within the arboretum. It has been observed close up by quite a few people in that time.
Yesterday we were able to approach to within 2 metres to take photos without disturbing the bird. It was amazing to observe the cryptic markings on the feathers making it very hard to see as it roosted in a little hollow it had made next to several tufts of grass. Several days ago one of the volunteers received a shock when he disturbed the bird while weeding around some of the plants growing there. The bird puffed itself up and hissed at him. He thought he was about to be attacked by some strange reptilian creature!
This is one species that I had dismissed as being able to get a good close up photo of. One should never say never.
This post updated on 12th October 2015.