Re: Rediscovery of the New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar

To: "David James" <>
Subject: Re: Rediscovery of the New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar
From: "Societe caledonienne d'ornithologie" <>
Date: Tue, 24 Nov 1998 00:30:38 +1100
Dear David,

Many thanks indeed for these comments on the release.
Apologies for its brevity if this caused some confusion on some matters.

The bird was indeed seen at dusk, dark enough to prevent seeing any wing
bars. Myself and Joe Tobias (the two observers) are both familiar with
members of the genus Eurostopodus,  which the bird observed did not at all
resemble. With quite broad but rounded wings, the bird observed was
obviously not a member of the Caprimulgidae. Unfortunately this is the
first Owlet-Nightjar either of us have seen ; Joe is now in Madagascar, but
I will be passing through Sydney for some days in the beginning of January,
when I hope to see A. cristatus. Tony - it was a shame Joe did not see this
bird whilst birding with yourself or Dion - it would be great if you know a
good site for when I come through.

The hawking behaviour observed is indeed curious. The bird flew into the
canopy of a small piece of riverine forest, hawked for c. 10 secs before
disappearing into thick foliage, appearing to perch there. It then emerged
once more, disappeared into another treetop, and then appeared again before
disappearing without trace, each time hawking briefly in the canopy and
sub-canopy.  Hence the bird was not hawking constantly for 30 secs as the
brief release may have appeared to suggest. Nevertheless it is well
possible, as you suggest, that the species differ ecologically in this
respect. Can anyone tell me if other large Aegotheles spp. such as Feline
Owlet-Nightjar A. insignis, are known to hawk more than smaller congenerics

The playback techniques mentioned do of course refer to use of A. cristatus
calls ; given the suggested sister species relationship between the two
taxa, there remains a possibility of similarity in call.

A full write up is presently in preparation.

Incidentally, it appears that the bird is not only known from a single
skin. Macmillan records finding a dead individual of A. savesi on the
island of Maré (Macmillan 1939). No mention is made in the paper of what
happened to this bird, whether it was preserved etc. Both Maré and Lifou
are full of forest, and hardly visited by ornithologists.
There are also two unconfirmed records of the NC Owlet-Nightjar which have
turned up in the course of the research of Project Diadema '98. Firstly,
Monsieur Gerard, a hunter, claims to have shot an individual of this
species in about 1960 at Paiita close to where the type was collected in
the village of Tonghoué. Monsieur Gerard made his record known to Yves
Letocart here in NC. Secondly, Daniel Letocart (Yves Letocart's brother)
claims to have heard calls similar to those of A. cristatus in the forested
headwaters of the Tchamba river (east coast) in 1996. He also claims to
have found a dead bird at this site in the 1950s which he remembers being
like an Owlet-Nightjar. Project Diadema returned to the Tchamba river with
Yves Letocart in July but made no record of the species.

Many thanks indeed for all your interest in this rediscovery - it is a
wonderful thing that this bird lives on in the forest of New Caledonia.

Ref :
Macmillan, L. Note sur les oiseaux des iles Loyauté (Trad. anglais par H.
Schmidt). Bulletin de la Société de études mélanésiennes, Nouméa. No. 1,
Déc 1938, pp.22-26 ; no. 2, avr. 1939, pp.30-41.

Jonathan Ekstrom
Project Diadema
Chez Degott, 18 Rue Millot, Ouemo, Noumea, NC
Fax : + 687 249407
Email : <>

> De : David James <>
> A : Tony PALLISER <>; 
> Cc : 
> Objet : Re: Rediscovery of the New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar
> Date : 22 nov. 98 16:09
> At 10:25 20/11/98 +1100, Tony PALLISER forwarded:
> >
> >this is a general release from Project Diadema 98, concerning
> >the recent rediscovery of the NC Owlet- Nightjar.   No calls were made
> the bird
> >was not relocated  This is the
> >first sighting  of the New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar since  1880
> >Subsequent searches at this site in the following week for five days and

> >nights provided no further records of this bird, either aural or visual,

> >despite the use of playback and intense fieldwork...
> A fascinating discovery. The NC Owlet-nightjar (Agotheles savesi) was
> only from a unique skin (the type specimen) and some subfossil bone
> remains. It has long been been presumed extinct. It has usually been
> treated as a subspecies of the Australian Owlet-nightjar (A. cristatus)
> (Delacour 1966; Hannecart & Letocart 1983), or as a sister species to A.
> cristatus (Mayr 1945;  Schodde & Mason; Peters World Checklist). However
> has been clearly shown to be a distinct species not at all closely
> to A. cristatus (Olson et. al. (1987). These authors compared skins and
> skeletons of all extant nightjars with the material of A. savesi.
> What puzzles me is if the recently discovered bird was not heard then the
> call of this species remains unreported.  Yet the project Diadema '98
> used playback techniques?! Presumably they used calls of A. cristatus??
> There is also a lost (presumed extinct) "eared" night-jar from New
> Caledonia. The New Caledonia Nightjar (Eurostopodus [mystacalis] exul) is
> also known only from a single skin, the type specimen. This was a female
> "egg-laying condition" (Mayr, 1941). Its call is also unknown. Mayr
> described the differences from White-throated Nightjar (E. mystacalis) of
> Australia as : (1) much lighter upperparts; (2) almost solid black crown;
> (3) little rufous in collar; (4) bolder, unbroken wing-bar on p9-p7; (5)
> inner webs of primaries, solid black or with faint rufous bars but no
> spots; and (6) smaller size (wing 184, tail 138, weight 77). It was
> as a subspecies of E. mystacalis by Mayr (1941) because it is closest to
> mystacalis in appaerance and because the "equally distinct" E.
> (little known of the Solomon Is.) was usually considered a subspecies of
> mystacalis in those days. Subsequent authors (May 1945; Delacour 1966;
> Hannecart & Letocart 1983) have mostly considered exul a subspecies of
> mysticalis, except Balouet & Olson (1989) treated it as a full species in
> its own right, without explanation. It could be anything form a totally
> unique species to a winter refugee from eastern Australia!
> Is there a chance that this rediscovery could refer to the nightjar
> than the owlet-nightjar? Obviously the wingbars would be a give-away, but
> perhaps the bird was watched in the gloom of dusk without a spotlight?
> constant hawking behaviour is curious. In my experience Australain
> Owlet-nightjar does not "hawk" as such but forages on the wing in short
> direct sallies from perches or pounces on prey on the ground. Perhaps the
> insular A savesi differs ecologically from a. cristatus in this regard?
> I hope that a full write-up of this great discovery will appear in time.
> Balouet, J.C. & S.L. Olson. 1989. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology
> Delacour, J. 1966. Guide de Oiseau de la Nouvelle-Caledonie et des
> Dependances.  Editions Delachaux et Niestle, Neuchatel.
> Hannecart, F. & Y. Letocart. 1983. Oiseaux de Nouvelle Caledonie et des
> Loyautes.     New Caledonian Birds. 2. Les Editions Cardinalis, Noumea, New
> Caledonia.
> Mayr, E. 1941. Am. Mus. Nov. 1152.
> Mayr, E. 1945. Birds of the Southwest Pacific. Macmillan, New York.
> Mayr, E. 1945. Birds of the Southwest Pacific. Macmillan, New York.
> Olson, S.L. et. al. 1987. Gerfaut 77: 341-352.
> Schodde, R. & Mason, I.J. 1982. Nocturnal Birds of Australia. Landsdowne
> Press.
> David James
> PO BOX 5225
> Townsville Mail Centre 4810

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