The common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis) is a common year-round resident in South Texas and one of the special birds that can only be seen within Texas in the ABA area. They are found predominantly south of a line from Port O’Connor to San Antonio to Del Rio with a only few records north of this line although they have been moving north within Texas slowly over the past 20 years. The species is typically found on the ground in dense brushy cover in the woods.
The Common Pauraque is a member of the Goatsuckers and comes from the Caprimulgidae Family which consists of eight species. The genus and species names reflect the bird’s appearance and behavior. The genus of this species Nyctidromus means “night-runner” referencing the bird’s nocturnal, low to the ground foraging. The species name, albicollis, describes the white bib (not always visible when roosting) on the pauraque’s throat.
It is a large bird among the goatsuckers (11 inches in length) that masterfully blends in with its ground cover. Even when you know the general location, it may take a minute or two to spot. They are covered in a mixture of brown and gray providing excellent camouflage. The key identification features are pale brown cheeks, pale-edged scapulars, and a long tail. They have a large head, but a very small beak.
During the day, they tend to roost on the ground and if disturbed will typically fly to a spot nearby. Their flight tends to be floppy or bouncy with deep wingbeats and wings raised high over the back. During flight, you may notice the long rounded tail and wings, white in the tail (a little white notch indicates female and extensive white indicates male), and either a buffy (female) or white (male) bar on the primaries. Their typical weight is 1.8 oz or 52 grams.
They are active night foragers that search for flying insects and are typically quite vocal at night. The song vocalization is a loud whistled “p’weeEER” or “Who are you?”
As can be seen from the photo above, the young are covered in down that allows for immediate camouflage which allows them to move around almost immediately after hatching. This one literally popped out from underneath the parent while the adult was being photographed. Although the legs of a Common Pauraque are so small as to be nearly impossible to see under normal conditions, the pauraque can leap half a meter off the ground to catch low-flying insects, and has been observed running on the ground during foraging. They have rictal bristles, which are modified feathers resembling stiff hairs alongside it mouth. The rictal bristles are believed to aid in night feeding and protect the eyes from insects.