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Fascinating facts about Tschudi’s nightjar: Habitat behavior and more!

The Tschudi’s nightjar, also known as the Decussate swift, is a South American bird species that is a member of the nightjar family. These fascinating birds have a unique appearance and many interesting characteristics that make them a popular choice for birdwatchers around the world.

In this article, we will explore the identification, plumage, and molts of the Tschudi’s nightjar, providing valuable insight into this captivating species.


Tschudi’s nightjar is a distinctive bird that can be easily recognized by its unique appearance. They have a relatively small head with a short neck, a flat bill, and large eyes.

Their wings are curved and pointed, while their tail is relatively short. These birds are also known for their distinctive calls that are often heard at dusk and into the night.



When observing the Tschudi’s nightjar in the field, it is important to note their distinct physical features. They have a dark brown back and wings, with pale spots and bars on their wings and tail.

The underside of their wings is light-colored, while their chest and belly are barred. They have a white throat, and the sides of their head are browner with a buffy wash.

Similar Species

There are a few similar species that can be mistaken for the Tschudi’s nightjar, such as the Band-winged Nightjar and Tawny-Bellied Nightjar. The Band-winged Nightjar is smaller than Tschudi’s nightjar, has a less pointed wing, and a different wing pattern.

The Tawny-Bellied Nightjar, while larger than Tschudi’s nightjar, has a different pattern of wingbars, and a more extensive rufous on its underparts.


The plumage of Tschudi’s nightjar is sexually dimorphic, with marked differences between males and females. Males and females have a distinctive white collar on their necks, but the male’s collar is more extensive and pronounced.

During the breeding season, males have a throat patch that is pale blue and bordered by a black line. They also have bright white tips on their outermost tail feathers, giving them a more visually striking appearance.


Tschudi’s nightjar has two molts per year, breeding, and non-breeding molt. The breeding molt takes place after the breeding season and involves the replacement of the feathers on the wings and tail.

The non-breeding molt occurs in the winter months, and the feathers are replaced in a specific order typically starting with the primaries. This molt process allows the birds to replace their old feathers with new ones that are more durable, enabling them to fly more efficiently.


In conclusion, the Tschudi’s nightjar is a unique species of the nightjar family that can be easily recognized by their unique calls and distinct physical characteristics. This bird’s plumage and molting process are also fascinating topics of study that provide us with valuable insight into the lives of these captivating birds.

Understanding the features, identification, and molting habits of these beautiful birds can lead to a greater appreciation for the wonder and complexity of the natural world.

Systematics History

The Tschudi’s nightjar (Systellura decussata) was first described by German naturalist Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz in 1829, who initially named it Caprimulgus decussatus. However, in 1844, Swiss naturalist Johann Jakob von Tschudi classified it under the genus of Hydropsalis and gave it its current scientific name, Systellura decussata.

Geographic Variation

Tschudi’s nightjar is found in a broad latitudinal range spreading from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, down to northern Argentina and Paraguay. Nonetheless, the species is not homogenous throughout its distribution range.

It presents some geographic variation in aspects from size, vocalizations, and differences in coloration.


The Tschudi’s nightjar is composed of four described subspecies which are differentiated by morphological and vocal features. S.

d. decussata, found across the southern ranges, is the largest of the subspecies, with a more extensive breast-patch white color.

S. d.

intermedia, which is spread around central Brazil, is generally smaller than the southern subspecies, with the metatarsal feathering reduced. S.

d. fumosa, which is known for a relatively shorter bill, occurs in Venezuelan lowlands, Ecuadorian Andes, and Peru.

S. d.

pallida, from the western part of the Andes, is intermediate in plumage characteristics between the northern fumosa and the other southern forms.

Related Species

The Tschudi’s nightjar’s classification has remained stable and uncontested over time. Tschudi’s nightjar is only distantly related to the other members of the nightjar family, Caprimulgidae.

There are a few other species that share some resemblance in appearance to the Tschudi’s nightjar, such as the Band-winged Nightjar (Systellura longirostris). Still, genetic analyses suggest that this resemblance is a parallel evolution result, and the two species are not close relatives.

Historical Changes to Distribution

A considerable number of studies suggest that Tschudi’s nightjar’s distribution range has undergone significant changes throughout history. Its current distribution is more confined than its wide range in the past, resulting from habitat loss, anthropogenic disturbances, and climatic change.

Green and Areta (2018) state that the distribution range of S. d.

decussata has experienced a severe restriction, with the population in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, suffering a dramatic decline in population density by almost 90%. In addition to anthropogenic disturbances, climatic fluctuation is recorded as an influential factor shaping the distribution of Tschudi’s nightjar.

During the Pleistocene Age, Tschudi’s nightjar experienced a contraction in its geographic range, and the remaining population was confined to coastal areas of South America. As the ice sheets began to melt, the bird started to expand its range to inland regions.


In conclusion, the Tschudi’s nightjar is a unique species of the nightjar family that presents some geographic variation throughout its distribution range. The species comprises four recognized subspecies, varying in morphology and vocalizations.

While its distribution range has undergone significant changes throughout history, the species remains stable and uncontested in its classification. Understanding the Tschudi’s nightjar and its related species can lead to significant advances in the fields of ornithology, evolutionary biology, and ecosystem management.


Tschudi’s nightjar is a bird species that inhabits a range of different environments throughout South America, from tropical forests to arid scrublands. While the species is generally associated with dry, open habitats, such as grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, it can also be found in more humid environments, such as wet forests and humid scrublands.

The species is distributed across a wide geographic range, around 13 countries, from northern Venezuela down to southern Argentina and Paraguay. However, the species is sparsely distributed throughout its range, with populations found in only small pockets of suitable habitat.

Populations are distributed in highlands and lowlands, from coastal areas to inland regions, although the species is comparatively more abundant around Andean foothills.

Movements and Migration

Tschudi’s nightjar is a non-migrant species that does not undertake long-distance seasonal migrations. They are relatively sedentary and show little movement out of their designated territories.

Instead, during the non-breeding season, they stay in their territory or nearby territories. The species remains local and sedentary for the most part, and only small-scale seasonal movements have been reported.

However, the species has been observed to perform some local and minor altitudinal movements, particularly associated with temperature changes during the day-night cycle, the changing seasons, and nocturnal migrations of their insect prey. They have also been reported to move in search of water supplies during times of drought.

Tschudi’s nightjar is a solitary bird that roosts in relatively open areas, such as grasslands and savannas. They typically occupy territories ranging from 4 to 9 hectares, marking their territories with their vocalizations.

Breeding pairs defend and concentrate vocalizations to small territories throughout their breeding season. In arid areas where water is scarce and cycles of precipitation are erratic, populations of tschudi’s nightjar may concentrate heavily around the water sources that emerge.

During these times, tschudi’s can be found on damp soil or exposed rocks near the waterhole. The bird mostly emerges during the latter hours into the night to spend most daylight hours silent and well-hidden within the dry vegetation.


In conclusion, Tschudi’s nightjar is a non-migrant bird species that inhabits different habitats in South America. The species is relatively sedentary, with small-scale movements, predominantly associated with seasonal changes and food supply.

Tschudi’s nightjar is noteworthy for its solitary nature, occupying holohome territories, and using vocalizations to mark and defend the areas. The tschudi’s nightjar is an active forager during the night, capturing their insect prey on the wing or from the ground.

Understanding the tschudi’s nightjar and its movements and habitat use can lead to greater insights into species management and conservation efforts.

Diet and Foraging

Tschudi’s nightjar is a nocturnal bird species that feeds on a range of insects, including beetles, flies, moths, and grasshoppers, among others. They capture insects on the wing or on the ground, using their large gape to scoop up their prey.

The species is active during the night, emerging from their roosting sites in the early evening to begin their foraging activities.


Tschudi’s nightjar captures their insect prey in flight or on the ground. Observations reveal that they capture a range of different types of insects across different habitats.

They may use ground-based feeding strategy in more humid biomes where insects concentrate, They actively hunt their prey in the air during flights over open land areas, performing sallies and usually at low altitudes.


Tschudi’s nightjar is a generalist feeder with a flexible diet, as the species is opportunistic, varying its food choices based on availability and weather conditions. Since they forage mainly during the night, they can capture insects that have emerged under the cover of darkness.

In certain locations, the species can seasonally concentrate along the waterholes and associated prey resources found in these specific habitats.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Tschudi’s nightjar has adaptations to cope with the varying temperatures experienced during the night. The bird develops a high metabolic rate during the night, which is used to produce heat when the environmental temperature drops.

This strategy allows the bird to maintain their body temperature, reducing heat loss to the environment. The bird will use different microclimates within its habitat to adjust temperature, using certain areas for thermoregulation during daytime low temperatures or windy conditions.

Sounds and Vocal



Tschudi’s nightjar has a range of vocalizations that are used for communication and territorial defense. Both males and females use a range of calls to communicate with each other during the breeding season and to establish their territory.

The most common call of the Tschudi’s nightjar is a series of simple, dry rattling notes, which is the distinctive sound that can be heard at night in their habitat. Both males and females can produce this call, which is often used as an advertising call for the territory.

The call is also used by males during courtship display when attracting a potential mate. They occasionally emit other calls, including a repeated “Wirtik” series, and a sharp “kip” note emitted when threatened.

The vocalizations of the Tschudi’s nightjar are essential in establishing and defending territories during the breeding season.


Tschudi’s nightjar is a nocturnal species with a flexible diet, variable in its use of resources. Its diet and foraging practices are primarily opportunistic in nature.

The species vocalizations have proven critical in communicating during the breeding season and defending their territories, with both males and females contributing to this fast, dry rattling call. These adaptations and behaviors are part of the species’ strategy to thrive in the challenging environment of South America.


Tschudi’s nightjar is a bird species that demonstrates a range of behaviors to ensure its survival and maintain its presence in its habitat.


Tschudi’s nightjar is adapted to a relatively short flight, geared towards using speed and maneuverability. They use their wings to gain lift and balance throughout the open habitats, where they perform sallies to catch their insect prey, or to escape from potential predators.

The species can travel short distances on foot, but their wings allow them to move quickly and efficiently across the landscape.

Self Maintenance

Like most birds, Tschudi’s nightjar spends a significant amount of time grooming itself. They use their beaks to clean their feathers and reduce the number of ectoparasites present in their plumage.

Grooming ensures that the birds remain healthy, reducing the risk of infection or parasitic attacks. Agonistic


Tschudi’s nightjar exhibits agonistic behavior when defending its territories from competitors or potential predators.

They use various vocalizations to communicate to other members of their species, marking the boundaries of their territory. The species also employs characteristically aggressive behavior, such as posture, angling, and chasing behavior, when responding to any encroaching individuals.



The species’ sexual behavior varies, mainly depending on the season. During the breeding season, males will present courtship displays to attract a female partner, with both sexes contributing toward territorial marking and defense.

Males develop a blue coloration patch in the throat that is used to impress females during the breeding season. Once paired, the species forms a monogamous pair bond, with both sexes sharing brooding and incubation duties.


Breeding behavior of Tschudi’s nightjar is inextricably tied to the availability of food resources and climatic conditions. During the breeding season, the species forms monogamous pairs, with the males using synchrony in vocalizations, aerial displays, and postures to attract a mate.

Tschudi’s nightjar breeds primarily in single pairs, though mixed-species pairs with related species have been observed. The species will build shallow ground-based scrapes to nest, using plant matter to cushion the nest, and the female will lay two creamy, yellowish eggs.

Demography and Populations

Populations of Tschudi’s nightjar are generally low density, and the species is sparsely distributed across its range. The population trend is estimated as stable.

Nonetheless, the species’ current position as an indicator of grassland and savanna fragmentation raises concerns about their vulnerability to habitat change, in areas such as Argentina and Uruguay. The species is not categorized as threatened, but habitat loss and fragmentation, combined with the scarcity of food supply in many areas, could result in localized population declines and further habitat specialization.

Additionally, their indiscernible nesting habits, general biology, and low population densities pose challenges to monitoring conservation status and population ecology. The Tschudi’s nightjar is a fascinating and unique bird species from South America that showcases notable characteristics of habitat adaptation, vocal communication, breeding behavior, and territories.

The species demonstrates a range of behaviors and adaptations to ensure their survival in challenging environments, such as short, slender body frames, and monogamous pair bond. Meanwhile, further research and monitoring are needed to determine the conservation status of the species, due to their generally low density populations and specialized habitat requirements.

Overall, the Tschudi’s nightjar remains an important species of study, providing valuable insight into the ecology of South America’s open habitats in which it resides.

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