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.