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Buff-collared Nightjar

December 17, 2010

Buff-collared Nightjars are large tropical members of the Goatsucker or Caprimulgidae family that regularly cross into the U.S along the Arizona- Mexico border. In a couple of isolated, rocky, desert canyons their loud “Co-Coo-Coo JEA” can sometimes be heard just before and after dusk. With a U.S. population that can be counted on one hand, by any measure they are one of the rarest birds in the United States and are sought after by birders building a big “life list”. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a hard-core lister or because I consider the border to be an artificial boundary where natural history is concerned, but I’ve never taken the time to make the pilgrimage to the remote canyon where the birds have been heard the last few summers to join the throngs of the hopeful. They haven’t been recorded in Cochise County, the Connecticut-sized county where we live, in several years.

So it came as quite a surprise when, as we conducted an early morning bird survey on mining company property near our home in Bisbee, we heard four different Northern Mockingbirds giving the Buff-collared Nightjar call as part of their morning repertoire. Although it can be confused with a Cassin’s Kingbird dawn call or Vermilion Flycatcher, this was clearly a Buff-collared Nightjar call. Where did they hear a nightjar? Three of the mockingbirds could have learned it from the fourth but someone somewhere had to learn it from the original artist. Did our mockingbirds take a trip to Mexico or did a Buff-collard Nightjar visit the area and serenade the locals? Mockingbirds are amazing mimics, I’ve heard them do car alarms and imitate talking budgies but they lack the creative originality to coincidentally make up a new nightjar call. We’ll probably never solve this mystery, but it does raise some intriguing questions and we’ve spent a couple of evenings listening for a tropical visitor in our neighborhood.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Dolores M Hoerner permalink
    December 18, 2010 12:18 am

    What a beautiful bird. Does it really have “feathers” on it’s face?

  2. Rosemary Allen permalink
    December 18, 2010 5:01 pm

    A wonderful mystery that conjures up all sorts of story lines!

  3. Emily permalink
    December 19, 2010 8:36 am

    Any more information about the Buff-collard Nightjar yet? Has anyone reported seeing one in your vicinity? Or, is the likelihood that it is migratory-ish Mockingbirds? It’s like an unsolved mystery. I’d love to hear when you find out more information. Thanks!

  4. December 30, 2010 1:08 pm

    Emily, the nearest known location for them on this side of the border is 80+ miles from Bisbee, but very little is known about what’s just across the border. This is a mystery that’s likely to endure.

    Dolores, they are gorgeous, aren’t they? Most members of the goatsucker family have long, stiff, whisker-like feathers around their mouths (rictal bristles). Conventional wisdom says that they aid in catching insects on the wing, either as a funnel or a sensory organ to improve the birds’ aim, but experiments suggest that the main function is to protect those huge, vulnerable eyes should the prey miss the bird’s mouth.

  5. Emily permalink
    December 30, 2010 4:55 pm

    Thanks for the additional information Sheri. Before your post, I’d not even heard of these gorgeous birds. Happy New Year!

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