New nests of rare Nightjar discovered outside of known habitat after 20 years as bird struggles habitat shrinking

Erez Erlichman
Published: 06.30.12,

Some 20 years have passed since the Nubian Nightjar, a rare desert bird, was spotted in nature. Last time, Nightjar nests were spotted in the Arava region and for many years researchers assumed it was already extinct.

Experts believe that there are less than 30 pairs of these nocturnal bird are nesting in Israel, struggling to survive in the changing environment and in an area that has been under a minefield clearing operation.

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The first sign of new Nightjars outside of their known habitat was reported three months ago.

Yitshak Ben-Mohe, zoology Master’s student in the Tel Aviv University who studies the Arabian Babbler in the Arabah, was lucky enough to encounter the rare Nightjar face to face during his routine scouts in the Sheizaf reserve.

“I saw a strange rock that frightened a group of Babblers,” recounts Ben-Mohe. “The birds circled the rock as if it was a predator and tried to attack it. Then, it suddenly opened its beak and revealed itself.”

Since this first encounter, Ben-Mohe has spotted three Nightjars, but was unable to document them.

In May, recurring reports on the rare bird outside its known habitat accelerated bird-watching activities by the Society for Protection of Nature in the Sheizaf reserve.

A team of researchers was eventually able to spot two Nightjar pairs in their nests. One of the nests was discovered very close to agricultural land, and the local community was quick to begin preservation activities.

Ecological relocation

Until the early 1980’s, the Nubian Nightjar was nesting all across the Aravah area, the Dead Sea and the Jordan Rift Valley. For this ground-living bird, the salty plains were the ideal habitat to nest and hunt small insects. But land development in the area spelled a shrinking habitat and Nightjar numbers rapidly dropped. Its last refuge was in Sodom.

“It’s possible that the Nightjars we discovered have survived there for many years, and simply sliped under the radar,” explained Yoav Pearlman, a zoologist from the Society for Protection of Nature, who has been tracking the bird’s population in the area for several years.

“These are shy and very stealth nocturnal birds, we know little about them,” he added.

Pearlman assumes that the preservation efforts in the area are helping the Nightjars to survive. However the mine clearing efforts this year probably hurt at least two Nightjar territories. Since the Nightjar lives on the ground and does not migrate, it is especially sensitive to landscape changes.

“The ecological pressure can push the nightjars to relocate to other territories, and even to Jordan, but many simply disappear,” said concluded.

According to Pearlman, the Nubian Nightjar is found in Israel only in small numbers, but this is one of the last places it can be seen in nature. This makes the new discovery especially joyous, but the researchers warn that the endangered bird is still under many threats, as its habitat continues to shrink.,7340,L-4245870,00.html