Big-eared Nightjar looks like a baby dragon
Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a passion for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviors and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, his subjects celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live among us can be.
June 27, 2022
Image credit: NABA CHOUDHURY/Shutterstock
With golden plumage sitting on its head like ears, a small beak obscured by fluff, and huge round eyes, the big-eared nightjar looks like a plump little dragon.
A nocturnal species known for its haunting calls and unusual habit of incubating its eggs on the forest floor, this beautiful bird is a sight to behold for those lucky enough to spot one in the wild.
Big-eared Nightjar (Lyncornis macrotis) are found throughout Southeast Asia, primarily in lowland moist forests in places such as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of India. They belong to a small group of eared nightjars within the large nightjar family Caprimulgida.
Among the seven known species of eared nightjar are the spotted nightjar (Eurostopodes argus) and white-throated nightjar (Eurostopodus mystacalis), both native to Australia, and the Satanic Nightjar (Eurostopodus diabolicus) from Sulawesi, Indonesia, which has made a name for itself – some say its “plip plop” cry sounds like it’s gouging out a person’s eyes.
The big-eared nightjar is among the largest nightjar species and has one of the most impressive sets of ear tufts. In fact, from certain angles, these ears are a little reminiscent of Batman?
Like a true creature of the night, the big-eared nightjar has a layer of tissue behind its eye called a tapetum lucidumwhich reflects visible light through its retina to give it superior night vision.
Also present in the eyes of cats, crocodiles, fruit bats and many other animals, the tapetum lucidum is an evolutionary marvel – check out this one, taken from a cow’s eye:
The motley patterns of gray, black, brown, and maroon that run through the big-eared nightjar’s plumage help keep it camouflaged on the forest floor, where it will incubate a single egg at a time.
This is a rather odd tactic for a bird, which could just as easily (and arguably more safely) incubate its young in a high nest high in the trees.
Here’s a big-eared nightjar demonstrating this amazing camouflage, which is so good I’d be afraid to step on it:
What makes the big-eared nightjar’s insistence on nesting on the ground even stranger is that it flies fantastically and spends a lot of time in the air. In fact, it eats while flying – it catches and eats insects in flight – and even drinks while flying, gliding along lakes and rivers and picking up water from the surface.
Whatever the reason for the big-eared nightjar’s penchant for trailing on the ground, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled if you’re in nightjar territory. This spotted nightjar, for example, pictured on Gunbarrel Highway in Western Australia, really doesn’t want you to kill its vibe: