Quiz: Is There a Bird in This Photo?

Text and images by Hugh Powell
November 9, 2008
Is there a bird?

(If you answered yes, give yourself a gold star)

Actually, I have full confidence you picked out this Common Pauraque, a Mexican relative of the Whip-poor-will that’s one of the big draws for birders coming to South Texas. But imagine if it weren’t sitting in the middle of this photograph and instead just scattered somewhere among the dead leaves of a scrubby mesquite forest. These birds are all but invisible.

The second image offers a closer look in the second image (click for a larger image still):

Click for a larger image.

Like Whip-poor-wills, Pauraques are nocturnal. This one was trying to get some sleep at around 10 a.m. on Saturday. Their sleepiness means that, if you’re quiet and cautious, they can provide one of birding’s most rewarding experiences: the chance to soak in the sight of a rare bird for as long as you want.

One more closeup!

Every time I get a good look at a Pauraque (or other caprimulgid), I’m blown away by their plumage. It’s like some medieval tapestry, subdued but intricate, hanging at the fringes of whatever daytime revelry is going on. (In this case, forty crazed birders carrying expensive optics.)

From the cloudy gray of the crown to the tawny chevrons and silky dappled flanks, it’s a sticks-and-leaves jumble reproduced in feathers. I tend to just stand and stare.

The heavy-lidded eye simply says “If you don’t mind, I worked the night shift last night.” So I packed up my camera and crept back down the path.

Later that evening, two more pauraques flew through the sweep of our headlights along a bumpy dirt road – the result of a wrong turn on the way to a potluck. But that’s another story.


  • Great pix! Hope we see some of those in BirdShare!

  • Debi

    Stunningly beautiful bird. Thanks for sharing this.

  • msc

    Wow, awesome pictures. How did you spot it?

  • Robinsegg

    Nice shots and commentary. I had a similar experience when I first sighted a Common Nighthawk just last year. It was much easier to spot however, than your sighting. It was perched in one of the half-dozen trees found at Fish Springs NWR.

  • Come to think of it, one of my weirdest Pauraque sightings was at the Liberia Airport in Costa Rica. I had arrived at roughly midday,and as we sped along the airport access road headed back to the highway, a ribbon of 8′ high chainlink fence paralleled the road. In the intense midday glare I noticed a smudge on the otherwise shining silver, and upon closer look realized it was a roosting pauraque. Once I calibrated my eyes, I realized there were an easy half-dozen spread along the half-mile of fence leading back to the highway. Go figure.

  • I had the exact same reaction to this bird, Hugh. Words cannot express, nor photographs convey, just how gorgeous this bird was. The markings on the feathers were just exquisite. And when you looked closer through a scope, the surprises continued. You could see the rictal bristles around the mouth, and even more surprisingly the nostrils on top of the teeny bill. It looked like a miniature tubenose. I would have to say that it was one of my best birding experiences while in the RGV.

  • WOW. What an amazing bird! The photo is really great, too. What type of camera do you use?


  • Hugh

    Glad you all liked these photos – hard to go wrong when the bird is sitting motionless less than 10 feet from the trail! Also see Bill of the Birds for more shots of the same bird: http://billofthebirds.blogspot.com/2008/11/pauraque.html

    @sitta – these photos and a couple more are up in Birdshare, thanks for the prompt. There’s no way those Costa Rican birds on the wires could have been nighthawks, is there?

    @misangela – my camera’s nothing too special, but it’s a nice point and shoot with a 10x zoom that some friends and family recently gave me. definitely not one of those arm-length lenses you see the real photographers carrying!

  • Hey Hugh-

    Definitely possible. ID’ing caprimulgids from a moving car in the midday glare is not one of my strong suits! I think I called them Pauraques due to their sheer commonness in that region of CR, and not having seen many nighthawks thanks to the early (and complete) darkness.

  • Great shots. That is some good camouflage. It’s tough to pick out the bird.

Quiz: Is There a Bird in This Photo?