First let me say that the color of the bird is such that it camouflages itself perfectly well with dry leaves, soil or even a branch of a tree. Unlike other birds, it perches along a branch, rather than across it. This is one bird you shouldn’t be surprised at if you step on it while walking through a virgin jungle. I am talking about the Indian Nightjars here.
In my recent visit to Bharatpur, I came across one such brave nightjar who was sitting on the ground few steps off the main tar road with few dry leaves around her. Despite the weekend rush, she was sleeping there like a log. I am sure the bird knows how well she can hide herself. Without a guide, I would have never spotted her. In fact, despite the guide’s help, it took me few moments to distinguish her from the dry leaves around. People were going as close as possible and some of them were trying to click portraits through their mobile phones. But she was quite unmoved by all the drama happening around. Her eyes were shut. She was arrogant . ‘You can’t see me and I don’t want to see you too’– was her attitude. I was wondering how would she protect herself from a jackal or a snake. Is there a different way by which she will identify who is approaching her? Or, are these regular predators dumb enough to miss her all the time ?
I don’t think nightjars are smart enough to identify the Bharatpur visitors as friendly. She knows she can camouflage well and she was assuming that she was invisible to the rest. This is unique. Nightjars are nocturnal in nature and usually active during dawn and dusk. A twilight bird. They sleep most of the time during the day. And like owls, they normally use the same perch for many days. They don’t make nest. They usually lay their eggs on open ground. I have also found few of them sitting in the middle of the roads inside the Tadoba Tiger Reserve while returning from safaris and to flew them away, the driver had to switch on the front lights. These behaviors are natural threats. Luckily enough, the bird is not known for any medicinal usages. Neither it is known for its meat and still continuing a “least concern” status in the IUCN red list.
Here is an excerpt from “Newsletter for Birdwatchers” published sometime in October-November 1992.
In the night of 8th and 9th September 1992, I was going by a jeep from Morena to Sheopur in North Madhya Pradesh. This route passes through rural and forested areas. During 9 to 11 pm, I counted 159 nightjars sitting on the road. As the jeep was travelling at the speed of 50 to 60 km/h, I saw the jeep passing over 26, but couldn’t ascertain if all of them were crushed or how many survived. Sixteen additional nightjars either collided or just touched the jeep while taking off.
Next morning when I came out of the Dak Bungalow at Sheopur, I saw seven nightjars stuck to the radiator of the jeep. These seven were out of the sixteen that had collided while taking off.
As per this incident 33 nos. of nightjars died in that one trip. This is not an isolated case. Many such incidents are still happening. Therefore, while driving around the rural and forested or semi-forested areas, drive slow. I am sure you don’t want to kill so many birds unknowingly.