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Discover the Elusive Mystical Bird of South America: The Fascinating Bates’s Nightjar

The Bates’s Nightjar, scientific name Caprimulgus batesi, is a fascinating bird species that inhabits forests and grassland areas of South America. Often, this bird is referred to as the “mystical bird” due to its crepuscular behavior, making it quite elusive to spot in the wild.

The Bates’s Nightjar has unique field identification features and distinctive plumages that make it stand out from other bird species in the same habitat.


Field Identification

The Bates’s Nightjar stands out with its large size, and cryptic plumages. Its eyes are wide apart, and it has a small beak, long wings, and characteristic body shape.

The males are slightly bigger than the females, with an average length of 25cm and wing span of around 69cm. Adult Bates’s Nightjars’ plumage is a mottled color, comprising shades of brown and gray.

In low light, their feathers give a distinct buffy appearance, which makes it look like the bird is glowing.

Similar Species

The Bates’s Nightjar is often confused with other nightjars. Notably, the Common Pauraque has a similar body structure and plumage, but the Bates’s Nightjar has a much larger size.

On the other hand, the Common Nighthawk has a similar size to the Bates’s Nightjar, but it has a white patch on its wings, which makes it easily distinguishable.


The Bates’s Nightjar has various distinctive plumages that can help in identifying its age and sex. The adults have unique cryptic brown, gray, and buffy plumages that help them blend in with their environment.

On their heads, they have a brown patch that separates the blackish horizontal band running along the nape. Additionally, they have a white wing patch that is visible when they are in flight.


Like other bird species, the Bates’s Nightjar sheds its feathers and grows new ones through the process of molting. Molting occurs twice a year in most species of nightjars.

The first molt occurs after the breeding season, while the second occurs before the next breeding season. In Bates’s Nightjars, the first molt occurs during the dry season, which is between May and June, while the second molt occurs in November and December.


In summary, the Bates’s Nightjar is a unique bird species that has unique features, which makes it easily distinguishable from other bird species in the same habitat. The Bates’s Nightjar has distinctive plumages, including cryptic brown, gray, and buffy plumages that help them blend in with their environment.

The males are slightly bigger than the females, with an average length of 25cm and wing span of around 69cm, making it easy to distinguish the sexes. Additionally, the Bates’s Nightjar undergoes molts twice a year, with the first molt occurring during the dry season between May and June and the second molt occurring between November and December.

Systematics History

The Bates’s Nightjar, Caprimulgus batesi, is a bird species belonging to the family Caprimulgidae. It was first described by George Krper, a German zoologist, in 1867.

Since then, taxonomists have revised and refined its classification to improve our understanding of the bird.

Geographic Variation

The Bates’s Nightjar is a resident bird species found in the subtropical and tropical regions of South America. Its habitat ranges from the driest deserts to the wettest forests in the region.

While the species is not globally threatened, the populations are declining due to habitat loss and degradation.


Taxonomists have recognized two subspecies of the Bates’s Nightjar based on the differences in their morphology and geographic distribution. The two subspecies are C.

b. batesi and C.

b. catopterius.

C. b.

batesi occurs in southeastern Brazil, eastern Paraguay, northeastern Argentina, and southeastern Uruguay. The subspecies is characterized by blackish-brown plumage with white spots on the wings.

Its nape and neck feathers are ochre buff-colored with blackish centers. The tail feathers have white and buffy bands.

C. b.

catopterius occurs in northeastern Brazil, eastern Bolivia, and northeastern Paraguay. The subspecies is generally paler than C.

b. batesi, with a paler buff or grayish-white nape and neck.

The wing and tail feathers are also paler, with less distinct markings.

Related Species

The Bates’s Nightjar belongs to the genus Caprimulgus, which contains over 100 species of nocturnal or crepuscular birds known commonly as nightjars. The genus consists mostly of insectivorous species, but some are known to eat small mammals, amphibians, or reptiles.

The Bates’s Nightjar is most closely related to the Little Nightjar (C. parvulus) and the Madagascan Nightjar (C.

madagascariensis), both of which are found in Africa and Madagascar. While they are different species, they share some similarities in behavior and morphology.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Bates’s Nightjar’s distribution has remained relatively stable over the past century. However, there have been some notable changes due to human activities and climate change.

Deforestation and conversion of natural habitats to agricultural land use have been the primary causes of declines in populations of the species throughout its range. In Brazil, for example, about 70% of the forested area has been lost to agriculture, logging, and other land uses.

This has resulted in fragmentation of the species’ habitats, and populations have declined as a result. Climate change is also affecting the Bates’s Nightjar’s distribution.

In some areas, the species is experiencing droughts and reductions in available water sources, which are affecting food availability and breeding success. Changes in precipitation patterns and temperature regimes may also impact the timing and success of breeding, further influencing population dynamics.


The Bates’s Nightjar is a unique and interesting bird species found in South America. Its systematics and geographic variation have been studied and refined over the years, leading to the recognition of two subspecies and identification of related species.

While the species has had a relatively stable distribution historically, changes in land use and climate may have more significant impacts in the future. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving its habitat and mitigating the impacts of climate change are essential to ensure the species’ survival.


The Bates’s Nightjar inhabits various habitats, including forests, savannas, and grasslands, throughout its distribution range in South America. The species can also be found in agricultural areas and pastures as long as there are enough trees and natural cover.

Forests: The Bates’s Nightjar is a habitat generalist known to inhabit tropical and subtropical forests. The species prefers the understory layer of tall, dense forests where it can roost and forage for insects.

The presence of large trees is particularly important since the Bates’s Nightjar needs the large scale insects that inhabit the forest canopy. Savannas: The Bates’s Nightjar is also found in grassy savannas in its range.

The species is known to prefer areas with scattered trees, where it can perch and wait for prey. It also requires tall grasses, which provide cover for roosting and nesting sites.

Agricultural areas: In some areas, the Bates’s Nightjar has adapted to agricultural lands, such as pastures and farmlands. The species uses trees and bushes as perching and roosting sites.

However, agricultural activities including land-use change, cultivation, and intensification of agroforestry systems threaten the species’ habitats.

Movements and Migration

The Bates’s Nightjar is a resident bird species and does not migrate over long distances. However, some individuals may move seasonally to areas where food is more abundant or breeding conditions are better.

Local Movements: In some areas, the Bates’s Nightjar moves short distances within its range to find suitable roosting sites, nesting sites, and food sources. During the breeding season, the species may move within its local area to find suitable mates and suitable breeding habitat.

Altitudinal Movements: In some areas, such as the Andes, the Bates’s Nightjar moves altitudinally to follow the changing climate and habitat. The species may move to higher elevation during the breeding season when the temperature is cooler and to lower elevation during the non-breeding season when temperature and food are more abundant.

Seasonal Movements: The Bates’s Nightjar in some areas may make seasonal movements in response to the availability of food and water. For example, during the dry season, the species may move to areas with more water sources where it can find prey.


In conclusion, the Bates’s Nightjar is a habitat generalist bird species found in forest, savanna, and grassland habitats throughout South America. The species is adapted to using trees, bushes, and tall grasses for perching, roosting, nesting, and foraging.

While the species does not migrate over long distances, it may move locally, altitudinally, or seasonally to find suitable habitat and breeding conditions. Conservation efforts focused on protecting the species’ habitats to maintain its populations will help ensure the species’ survival.

Diet and Foraging

Bates’s Nightjar is a nocturnal bird that feeds primarily on flying insects such as moths, beetles, and flying termites. The species is an aerial hunter that captures prey in flight.

The Bates’s Nightjar does not rely on tactile feedback for locating its prey, but rather on its visual acuity, which it uses to locate and capture prey using its large, open mouth.


The Bates’s Nightjar feeds while flying, snatching its prey from the air using its mouth. The bird is known to be an ambush predator, which hides in foliage or trees before launching itself at prey that it sees in flight.

The Bates’s Nightjar has a wide gape and a short bill, allowing it to open its mouth wide, which helps it capture larger insects.


The Bates’s Nightjar diet comprises of insect species that can be found throughout its distribution range. The species is known to feed on a range of insects such as moths, beetles, and flying termites.

Bates’s Nightjar feeds extensively on insects and can consume up to 60% of their body weight in a single night. The species feeds throughout the night, with peaks of activity around dawn and dusk.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Bates’s Nightjar, like other nightjars, has a metabolic rate that is lower than other birds of similar size. The species is adapted for energy conservation, allowing it to survive in areas with low food availability.

Its low metabolism also helps it regulate its body temperature as the species is known to be particularly effective at dissipating excess heat during the day.

Sounds and Vocal



The Bates’s Nightjar has a distinctive vocalization that is typically heard during the breeding season. The vocalization consists of a series of sharp clicks that are produced primarily by the male during courtship and territorial displays.

Bates’s Nightjar’s vocalizations are meant to attract females to the breeding site and establish territorial boundaries. Male Bates’s Nightjar is known to perform aerial displays where they fly upward with their wings held in a V shape, and then glide back down to their original location.

During this display, they emit a series of loud clicks. These aerial displays are often accompanied by their unique vocalization, which is a high-pitched whistle.


In conclusion, the Bates’s Nightjar is a nocturnal bird species, feeding primarily on insects such as moths, beetles, and flying termites. The species is an aerial hunter that catches prey in flight, and it has an energy-efficient metabolism suitable to areas with limited food availability.

Bates’s Nightjar has a distinctive vocalization consisting of sharp clicks, which males use during courtship and territorial displays.


The Bates’s Nightjar has a range of behaviors that allow it to survive, including locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior.


Bates’s Nightjar is well-adapted for its maneuvering and flight capabilities, allowing them to capture airborne prey with precision. They exhibit a slow, buoyant flight with rapid wing beats and quick, agile turns in pursuit of prey.

They have large eyes designed to help in flight, giving them high visual acuity to detect prey.


Bates’s Nightjar uses self-maintenance as a way of ensuring fitness and continued survival. They engage in preening and grooming activities regularly, using their bills and talons to remove dirt, dust, and parasites from their feathers.

Additionally, Bates’s Nightjar will sunbathe to acquire vitamin D and to kill external parasites. Agonistic


Bates’s Nightjar is territorial outside the breeding season, and males often engage in agonistic behavior to establish and maintain their territories.

This behavior often involves display flights, whereby males defend their territories by flying vertically and then gliding down while making a series of sharp clicking sounds. Bates’s Nightjar may also engage in physical confrontations and altercations, resulting in injuries or death in some cases.



During the breeding season, Bates’s Nightjar engages in courtship displays. Males establish territories and attract females through vocalizations.

Males often display and call from perches in trees or on the ground, while females respond with calls of their own. Courtship displays involve aerial maneuvers, such as gliding, diving, and display flights.


Bates’s Nightjar typically breeds during the wet season in its range, which allows for an increase in food availability. They form monogamous pairs during the breeding season, which last for a single reproductive season.

The male establishes a territory, and the female selects a suitable nesting site within this territory. The nest is on the ground and often in an area with bare ground or short vegetation.

Bates’s Nightjar lays one to two eggs, and both parents share incubation duties. The eggs hatch in approximately 17 to 19 days, and the young fledge around three weeks after hatching.

Demography and Populations

Bates’s Nightjar populations have either remained relatively stable or have shown a slight decline in certain areas due to habitat loss and fragmentation. In southeastern Brazil, the species is listed as “Endangered” due to the severe loss of Atlantic forest, which is their primary habitat.

Other populations of Bates’s Nightjar face similar threats, including forest destruction for agriculture and mining. Conservation measures to protect the species include habitat conservation and protection of nesting and roosting sites during the breeding season.

Additionally, measures to limit land-use changes and preserve patches of habitat suitable for Bates’s Nightjar are necessary to maintain healthy populations.


In conclusion, Bates’s Nightjar is a fascinating nocturnal bird species with a range of behaviors that help it survive and reproduce. The species displays unique locomotory, self-maintenance, agonistic, and sexual behavior, and breeds during the wet season in their range.

The species is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, making its conservation imperative to maintain healthy populations. In conclusion, the Bates’s Nightjar is a unique and fascinating bird species that inhabits forests, savannas, and grasslands throughout South America.

It has distinctive plumages, vocalizations, and behaviors that make it well-adapted for its environment, surviving on a diet of insects and displaying complex reproductive strategies during the breeding season. Bates’s Nightjar populations are declining in some areas due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and conservation efforts to protect its habitats and maintain population levels are essential.

The continued survival of the Bates’s Nightjar is critical not only as a vital part of South America’s ecosystem, but also as an important cultural and ecological symbol of the region.

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