Nesting Nightjars – Changing color of plumage for protection?

Photo 1. The Large-tailed Nightjar can hide from predators by keeping still under cover from the weeds and grasses.

Ground nesting birds are always at the mercy of terrestrial and aerial predators. The Large-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus macrurus, is no exception. They lay their eggs on dry leaves on the ground often in some quiet open waste land. Lucy Davis flushed a nightjar from its nest accidentally while taking a walk at her Wessex Estate last week. I had a hard time trying to find it yesterday as it was sitting quietly in a small depression surrounded by grasses and weeds (photo above). Only its head is visible. You can be a few feet away and yet will not see it.

It chose to nest among the dead leaves on the ground and changed it plumage color from dark brown to light brown to match the lighter color of the leaves. ( Original photo without toning or coloring). Photo 2.

Another strategy is to blend in to the immediate surroundings. In this case the nightjar chose to nest amidst the dead leaves on the ground as its normal dark brown plumage will make it look less noticeable. For any predators looking from above, it is almost impossible to pick it out among the carpet of dead leaves. But something does not look right.

P1292815This is a roosting nightjar I took at the Botanic Gardens last year (left). This is its usual color which is dark brown like most of the nightjars I seen in the field. Now take a look back at the one Lucy found ( Photo 2). It has a lighter brown plumage to match the color of the dead leaves to blend in better. Somehow this nightjar managed to change its plumage color to match that of the fallen leaves. This is something I have not come across before. Do the birds have this ability to change their plumage to that of the surroundings for camouflage like a Chameleon? Your comments are most welcome.

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