The most common bird books are field guides designed to be carried out on birding expeditions and used in situ to help identify the species of birds that they see. These books, because of their intended usage, are generally smaller so they can be more easily carried and soft-covered so they are lighter and fit more readily into a jacket pocket. The downside of this is that the size of the photo plates inside these field guides is also reduced. It is refreshing, therefore, when a book like the hard-cover version of Nigel Cleere’s Nightjars of the World comes along, detailing the many species of Caprimulgiformes from New England’s familiar Whip- poor-will to the Jamaican potoo which is endemic to that island.
Nightjars are masters of camouflage
Nightjars of the World is a full-sized, hard-cover book that contains 587 full color photographs, many of which are full-page photos. Although the book is otherwise structured as a field guide, with all the requisite range maps, identification notes, and behavioral information to which birders are accustomed, it is in my view, more of a desk-top reference. The photographs are essential to comprehend the astonishing effectiveness of the camouflage abilities of many species of nightjars, which not only match their surroundings with the color and pattern of the plumage, but also assume the physical shape of their environment in many cases, transforming into a tree branch or flattening into the leaf-litter of the forest floor. Ironically, it is their reliance on camouflage and remaining still to avoid detection that allows so many detailed and close-up photos to appear in Nightjars of the World.
Detailed nightjar information
The first 58 pages of Nightjars of the World, which incidentally also carries the longer title Nightjars, Potoos, Frogmouths, Oilbird and Owlet-nightjars of the World, are dedicated to detailed discussions of the history, taxonomy, and general biology of the larger order of Caprimulgiformes. This section is best read straight through, a task made easier because of the copious photos used to illustrate such points at the defense and distraction displays of various nightjar species. Be warned that you may find yourself caught up in the visual beauty of the nightjars and this book, unable to put it down until you have flipped through all 587 photos.
The origin of the chupacabra legend
Nightjars, as Cleere points out were the original goatsuckers, or chupacabras in the modern vernacular. In ancient Greece, theses nocturnal birds were thought to feed from the udders of livestock under cover of darkness spreading disease among domestic livestock herds. While the modern urban myth of the chupacabra has given it a more violent, vampiric aspect, its origins can be traced to his enigmatic bird.
Recommendation for Nigel Cleere’s Nightjars of the World
While we may see nightjars in the dim light of the early evening hours, or rarely stumble across one sitting patiently during daylight hours, it is very difficult to find and get good looks at the nightjar and related species, Nightjars of the World offers us a rare, detailed look at some of the most elusive nocturnal birds of the world. For those, like me, who can’t get enough of birding, Nightjars of the World will be revisited over and over on those rainy or snowy days when outdoor birding is not feasible.