Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

Caprimulgus macrurus Horsfield, 1821

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum/Division:Chordata
Class:Aves
Order:Caprimulgiformes
Family:Caprimulgidae
Genus:Caprimulgus
Species:C. macrurus
Common Names:Large-tailed Nightjar
Status:Common Resident

Description

Adult male has a mixture of finely vermiculated brownish and greyish plumage, streaked with black, most boldly on the crown, and mottled with rufous on the wings. Moustachial streak white or buffy white. Rictal bristles are black, white at the base.

There is a buff-coloured collar across the hind neck. Scapulars are mainly glossy black, with broad pale buff edges forming two converging stripes on the back. Wing coverts are a mix of black and brownish, with broad pale buff edges. Primaries are blackish brown; the outermost four primaries have large median white spots, forming a white band across the wing. Secondaries are brownish, narrowly and irregularly barred with rufous. Two outermost pairs of tail feathers are tipped broadly with white. Remainder of the tail feathers are blackish, with bands of brown with blackish vermiculations, the uniform blackish being much more extensive on the outer feathers. The throat patch white. The rest of underparts is regularly barred with golden buff and dark brown.

The adult female is like the male but the spots on the wings and tail are buff, not white.

Immatures are much paler. The top of head and wing stripes are pale sandy buff, slightly mottled with blackish.

Newly hatched young are covered with uniform cinnamon down.

Soft parts: Iris brown, Tarsus and soles pinky-brown. Bill buff with black tips.

Size: 15–16 cm; Weight: 17.5 g; Bill: 38.2 mm; Tarsus: 9.8 mm; Wing: 65 mm; Tail: 27 mm

Male: 260 mm. Weight 74–76 g; Bill 22–25 mm; Tarsus 16–17.5 mm; Wing 190–192 mm; Tail : 144–147 mm
Female: Bill 21.2 mm; Tarsus 19.3 mm; Wing 186 mm; Tail 116 mm

Read more about the Caprimulgiformes order.
Read more about the Caprimulgidae family.

Localities

Found throughout Singapore and its offshore islands.

Locality Map

General Biology

The Large-tailed Nightjar is active at night. It is fond of perching on lamp posts and catching insects that are attracted to the lights. Sometimes known as the ‘tock tock bird’, the Large-tailed Nightjar is the owner of the familiar sound of ‘tchoink-tchoink’, often heard in open country, gardens and parks, along trails in the forests, forest edges, rural areas, and even near housing estates. In the daytime, it roosts under trees or bushes.

Being nocturnal, it obviously mates at night and thus this behaviour is not well known. The pair indulges in aerial courtship displays involving showing off their various white markings on the wings, making wing clapping sounds and sometimes even vocalisation. Copulation often follows a successful display.

The bird has a number of unique features—the eye-shine that shows up at night under artificial light; white patches on the wings, tail and throat, seen only when disturbed as these patches suddenly flash out and most probably give the intruder a fright.

Diet

The Large-tailed Nightjar eats a variety of Insects, including moths, crickets, grasshoppers. wasps, beetles, and bugs. These are taken on the wing or hawked from the ground. The extra large gape of the nightjar, surrounded by long tectile bristles, help to funnel flying insects into the buccal cavity when feeding on the wing.

Life Cycle

Large-tailed Nightjars lay their clutch of two eggs (rarely three) on the ground without making any nest, often in the middle of a less-trodden trail. The egg is a regular oval in shape, with the two ends almost symmetrical. The shell is smooth and slightly glossy. The ground colour of the egg is pinkish, blotched over with deeper end with pink and occasionally with small spots of deeper colouring.

The chicks have fluffy brown plumage, which provides perfect camouflage against the ground littered with dried leaves.

When intruded, the adult will put on the 'broken wing" display, struggling on the ground as if one of its wing is damaged. When approached, it moves away and so on leaving the nest with the eggs of chicks far behind. Then suddenly the bird flies off. Sometimes, the bird puts on a "double wing" display, dropping each wing in turn and occasionally both at the same time.

The clutch of 1-2 eggs take 16–22 days to hatch, incubated by the female during the day;  chicks are semi-precocial and brooded for about 14 days, becoming independent at around 35 days (Cleere, 1999).

In Singapore, eggs have been recorded from January through July, October and December. Chicks have been seen in the month of March, April, July and December.

References

Bucknill, J. A. S. & F. N. Chasen. 1927. Birds of Singapore and South-east Asia. (Second Edition 1990). Tynron Press, Scotland. 247 pp.

Chasen, F. N. 1939. Preliminary diagnoses of new birds from Malaysia. Treubia, 17: 205-206.

Cleere, N. 1999. Family Caprimulgidae (Nightjars). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 5. Barn-owls to hummingbirds. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 302-386.

Robinson, H. C. 1927. The birds of the Malay Peninsula. Vol. I: The commoner birds. H. F. & G. Witherby. London. 329 pp.

Wang, L. K. 2011. Nightjars. Pp. 392. In: Ng, P. K. L., R. T. Corlett & H. T. W. Tan (editors). Singapore Biodiversity. An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Editions Didier Millet, Singapore. 552 pp.

Wang, L.K. & Hails, C.J. 2007. An annotated checklist of birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1–179, Singapore.

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