This common pauraque is one of several species of nightjar which live in Belize, out of a worldwide total of about 80 types. Like many other members of this family, this one has a cryptic brown coloration which camouflages it when it's on the forest floor. Some of the American species are also called nighthawks, and the whole family are sometimes called "goatsuckers" because of a mistaken belief that they suck milk from goats, causing them to go blind!
This particular one was so confident of her camouflage that she was nesting right beside the trail at the entrance to the Rio Blanco National Park, where she's looking after her two chicks!
There were plenty of nightjars around the country, and they're one type of animal which benefits from the human presence. They're unusual amongst birds because they hunt in the evening and, if there's a bright moon, even at night. They sit by the side of a road or clearing, looking upwards until they see a moth or other flying insect silhouetted against the sky, then they dart upwards, catch it and return to their original spot. Like many other insect-eating birds, they have many large whiskers on their face, to direct their prey towards their mouth.
They're easy to find at night, because their eyes strongly reflect light, just like the eyes of a cat. Since they often hunt next to roads it's very common to spot them while you're driving at night. As you drive past they'll often fly away in the same direction you're driving and land next to the road, right where you're going to pass by again! After doing this several times they'll finally figure out it wasn't such a smart idea, and they'll head off in the opposite direction. As well as seeing them, you'll often hear them calling to their mate at regular intervals, since they can't see each other while they're on the ground. The sound they make resulted in some of the common names assigned to species like the "whip poor will" and "Chuck Will's widow".
Photograph by Richard Seaman
Click here to comment on this picture.