Owlet-nightjar

Not many people have seen the Owlet-nightjar in the wild, but in my experience this beautiful little bird is actually much more common than you think. And interestingly, it is also more active during the day than you might expect for a nocturnal bird. Next time you are in the bush, spend a bit of time looking at likely spots. In my experience these birds can be found in a variety of hollows in many different areas. I have seen them in a range of habitats: Castlemaine in Kalimna Park, Rise and Shine out past Newstead, Wyperfeld, Horsham and Terrick Terrick north of Bendigo, as well as in Melbourne suburbs. You have probably seen nest boxes around the bush, but next time look a bit closer. This cute fellow was a bit sleepy but still kept a careful eye on me. This was mid-afternoon on a sunny day in winter when this bird was soaking up a bit of warmth.

This nestbox was probably intended for Phascogales or Sugar Gliders, but instead was the home of an Owlet-nightjar

Owlet-nightjar at dusk in Wyperfeld National Park

Camping in Wyperfeld towards evening I heard a mob of honeyeaters making a racket so I went over, expecting to see a Goshawk or similar, but instead was surprised to see an Owlet-nightjar fending off some angry White-plumed honeyeaters.

Broad daylight – Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, Clydesdale

Walking at the Rise and Shine Reserve near Newstead on a warm summer day I heard the sound of wing beats behind me and suddenly this little fellow landed on a branch right in front of me giving great views.

A typical spot in a horizontal branch – Terrick Terrick

Hollows of various types are a preferred roosting spot, often near a water source. I have seen these birds in diverse locations ranging from nest boxes to rotten fence posts as well as tree hollows. Next time you are wandering in the bush keep your eyes open – you never know what you might see. At night, have a listen for the call – usually just a single note repeated regularly. More than once this has alerted me to their presence in an area and I have later returned during the day to look for likely hollows. Spotlighting will not show them up, as unlike owls and possums, the eyes of the Owlet-nightjar do not reflect light.

Hard to spot from a distance – snoozing in the afternoon sun. Yarra River, Heidelberg. This hollow was next to a footbridge frequented by dozens of walkers, but this bird seemed unfazed by people walking by, all of whom had no idea what was there.

2 thoughts on “Owlet-nightjar”

  1. Beautiful little, or not so little, birds. I have been lucky enough to see one in the wild and I religiously check hollows checking for the daytime ‘snoozers’ but unfortunately I haven’t been able to repeat my experience from Rise and Shine. My encounter was amazing, the ONJ jumped out of a hollow and up onto a branch and just sat there looking at me. It was as if we were both just as mesmerized by each other. I eventually moved on but on my return he had taken up residence in the same hollow and allowed me a few more ‘extremely’ close up pics. Wonderful encounter, beautiful birds. . .

    1. Sounds like you have seen the same Owlet-nightjar as I have at Rise and Shine. Maybe I am just lucky, but I keep coming across these guys all over the place. They do seem to be quite curious at times and will watch people from a distance. It is certainly worth checking any likely hollows. As you can see from my photos they can be seen in a variety of locations with no seemingly preferred hole – whatever is around is a possibility including next boxes.

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