Caprimulgiformes – Nightbirds & Hummingbirds

It's “good night, sleep tight” just for a few of us, not these nightbirds!

A diverse group of nocturnal and crepuscular (active during twilight) birds includes families such as nightjars, the enigmatic frogmouths, peculiar potoos, resourceful oilbirds, and the contrasting swifts and hummingbirds. Although varied in habits and appearance, these families share common nocturnal adaptations.

These birds have several unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in their nocturnal environments. Their large eyes and sensitive hearing enable them to navigate and hunt in low-light conditions. Many Caprimulgiformes species have specialized feathers that help them camouflage themselves against the night sky or forest floor.

The Caprimulgiformes, such as nightjars and potoos, exhibit a sophisticated form of cryptic coloration, with their plumage perfectly mirroring the environment, making them nearly invisible during the day. Their mottled browns, greys, and tans blend seamlessly with tree bark and leaf litter, with their body shapes further disrupted by their still, upright resting positions, which reduce shadows and enhance their natural camouflage.

One of the most striking features of Caprimulgiformes is their wide mouths, which they use to catch insects in mid-air. Some species have bristles around their beaks that help funnel insects into their mouths. They also have long wings and tails that aid in their aerial maneuvers.

Caprimulgiformes are found in a variety of habitats around the world, including forests, grasslands, and deserts. They are typically solitary birds, except during the breeding season when they may form pairs or small groups. Their nests are usually simple structures built on the ground or in trees.

The sounds made by Caprimulgiformes are as varied as the birds themselves. From the nightjar’s musical churring to the oilbird’s eerie clicks, their vocalizations add a mysterious soundtrack to the night. These birds have intrigued and inspired humans throughout history, from being symbols of good luck to omens of doom.