Common Pauraque

Nyctidromus albicollis

  • Version: 2.0 — Published February 6, 2015
  • Steven C. Latta and Christine A. Howell

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Common Pauraque in North and Middle America.

This species also breeds in South America. See text for details.

Adult Common Pauraque, Starr Co., TX, March.

Gray morph (ssp. merrilli) These birds are often seen perched on dirt roads at night. Note white, chevron-shaped patch on throat. This patch is more buff-colored for females. This individual is likely a male. Image by Gerrit Vyn., Mar 20, 2006; photographer Gerrit Vyn

The Common Pauraque is the only fully resident U.S. nightjar. While its North American distribution is limited to southern Texas, it is the most common nightjar or goatsucker throughout much of its range in Mexico and in Central and South America. The origin of its common English name is unknown but may be an inaccurate rendering of the Spanish para que (Chapman 1926b) or a translation of one of its calls (Skutch 1972), as many local names throughout its range are imitations of typical vocalizations.

The common song, a breezy “hip-hip hip-hip hip-hip-hooray” (Chapman 1929a) is one of the quintessential sounds of the tropical lowlands. Because of its abundance and weird, wailing cries, the Pauraque is universally known in much of Central and South America and contributes to the region's folklore. Accordingly, “Don Pucuyo” is thought by locals to be “very much of a Don Juan, in spirit at least, and to exert a more or less malign influence over women; indeed his presence in the vicinity of a hut has been known to produce pregnancy in virgins” (Dickey and van Rossem 1938).

A large, long-tailed nightjar, “the browns, buffs, grays, and black of its soft plumage form an intricate pattern of delicately blended shades, lovely to contemplate at close range and at leisure, but tedious to describe” (Skutch 1972). Identified by blunt, rounded wings with a white band across the primaries, and a long rounded tail with substantial white in the rectrices, the Pauraque is particularly crepuscular and terrestrial, foraging after dark and low to the ground with jumps into the air and short circular sallies for night-flying beetles and other insects. This nightjar lays two handsome eggs, quite unlike the eggs of any other species in the family in their conspicuous coloration, as are the downy young. Pauraques are also unusual in that the male shares substantially in incubation duties.

Although the Pauraque is a common species, much remains to be learned about its biology and ecology. We know little about its behavior, and we have few data on population trends, even from North America. The status of the various subspecies remains unstudied and is confused by substantial individual and geographic variation.

Recommended Citation

Latta, S. C. and C. A. Howell (2015). Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.