At first glance this photo looks like just an interesting combination of patterns, maybe the bark on an unusual tree. If you look closely you will see a barely open eye in the upper left part of the photo, and to the left of that a small bill. This pretty plumage belongs to a bird related to better known Whip-poor-wills that are found throughout eastern parts of the U.S. as well as parts of Canada and Chuck-will’s-widow that are found in southeast U.S.
This intricately patterned bird is called a Common Pauraque (pronounced: pa – ra – kay). I think their plumage is gorgeous with it’s mix of patterns and shades of brown and gray. Pauraques are the very rare cousin in this family called nightjars that are found from South America through Mexico and into very So Texas, the only location in the U.S. where they can be seen. I took these photos a week ago at Estero Llano Grande State Park, one of the many amazing natural areas open to the public that make birding here fantastic. I didn’t find this bird, the staff at that park pointed out the area where they knew one was roosting but then I spotted it.
You can see, in a little wider view of the Common Pauraque, just how well their cryptic appearance helps them blend in with the leaves and twigs on the ground that provide lots of wood patterns and colors. This is important as they roost on ground during the daytime which can be hazardous. The reason they sleep in the daytime is that they forage at night when the low-flying insects they eat are also flying. They have a unique way of opening their beaks. According to the National Zoo website, “The lower jaw is highly specialized to allow the gape to open wide both vertically and horizontally; this huge mouth allows feeding on large flying insects.”
In addition to their unique plumage these Common Pauraque’s have interesting vocalizations. Listen to them here on the Audubon Guides website. One last interesting piece of info about the family of birds it is in–nightjars. Because of their loud calling at night with their unusual high pitched call their name is for their jarring people from their sleep.