This was one of the more bizarre bird behaviors I’ve witnessed.
One early morning on Antelope Island in September of 2008 I decided to break from my typical routine on the island and make the short drive up to Buffalo Point. I seldom go up there because for me that area has rarely been productive for birds but on this morning I pretty much had the island to myself (there was no other traffic) so I wanted to see if I could find something interesting to photograph that hadn’t already been disturbed by vehicles or people.
I had quite the surprise in store for me.
1/1000, f/9, ISO 400, Canon 40D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 Extender, not baited, set up or called in
A little more than half way up the hill I found this Common Nighthawk on the road. It was alive (not roadkill as I originally feared) and it seemed obvious that it had deliberately oriented its body lengthwise along the newly painted stripe on the south edge of the road. This species is well known for orienting its body lengthwise on branches and other linear perches which allows it to take full advantage of its cryptic coloration by making its body shape conform to that of its perch.
In my ignorance of nighthawk behavior back then I was concerned that it might be injured or even stuck to the new-looking paint so I approached it very closely to try to make the bird fly off before another vehicle came up the hill and made roadkill out of it. But the bird simply would not fly. I crouched down and put my hand within about 6″ of its face but the bird just watched me for a few moments and then actually closed its eyes as if it were sleeping.
It was beginning to look like it might be injured or sick and I might need to “rescue” it but I was hoping to avoid that if at all possible. Something told me get back in my pickup, drive the 100 yards or so up to the parking lot and immediately come back down so I could “think” about what I was going to do on the way down.
By the time I returned to the spot about two minutes later the nighthawk was gone.
I suspect this behavior was due to deeply ingrained instinct – to orient itself lengthwise on its chosen roosting spot (in this case the paint stripe) and to avoid movement or even flying off and instead rely on its cryptic coloration and body shape along the stripe to hide it from the potential threat (me). When that threat was gone the nighthawk flew off.
I find bird behaviors endlessly fascinating.
Note: I posted a different image of this bird way back in March of 2013.