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The Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar Nightjar (1 Viewer)

jedigrant

Well-known member
The Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar Nightjar
by Vernon R. L. Head

If you aren't familiar with the Nechisar Nightjar, it is about the weirdest bird-related story I've ever heard. In short, a team of ornithologists in Ethiopia found a road-killed bird and were able to salvage the wing. It was obviously a nightjar, but they didn't know which one. They scoured museums and other resources, but still weren't able to find a match, so they presented it as a new species - the Nechisar Nightjar. For about 20 years, though, no one had seen any more than that. That changed in 2009, when a team of four birders claimed to have seen it alive. One of those birders, Vernon Head, chronicles the quest in this book.

It’s an amazing story, one worth reading. Frequent digressions, though, could either enhance or detract from the experience, depending on the reader. And overly flowery writing can make it hard to read much at a time.

Here's my full review of The Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar Nightjar
 

jedigrant

Well-known member
The title of this book would seem to be about as credible as the claimed sight records...

I felt the same way about the title. The author does actually analyze which bird deserves that title. I don't know if I agree with his conclusion, but then again, how can you even definitively answer this?

As for the sighting - I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, unless there's some circumstantial evidence that I'm not aware of.
 

DMW

Well-known member
Exactly: it's impossible to define the rarest bird, which makes the title a nonsense. For starters, how is Nechisar Nightjar rarer than - say - Vaurie's Nightjar, which is also known from a single specimen (and not recorded since 1929 despite being looked for, so surely even rarer than the Rarest Bird in the World!)?

It seems daft to claim that a species with a completely unknown population is rarer than all the other rare birds with unknown populations.

As far as the validity of the sight records: how can anybody seriously claim a sighting of a species known from a single wing, based on a couple of brief flight views of spotlit nightjars - especially in that part of the world?

Does anybody know whether the genetics of the specimen of Nechisar Nightjar been analysed? I thought there was some debate over whether it was actually a distinct species.
 

lewis20126

Well-known member
No photos (only some poor video of an unidentifiable nightjar flying away), no recordings of vocals. I don't think many believe this claim TBH. Having photographed quite a few nightjar species, I don't think it should be that difficult to get a photo..

cheers, alan
 

jurek

Well-known member
Surprisingly, in 30 years after the wing was found, only Mr Sinclair's group ever got to Nechisar plains at night, and nobody analyzed DNA of the specimen.

Nobody also put forward a photo and specimen of other known nightjar species matching the wing (theory of Standard-winged Nightjar was circulating). Nor, as far as I know, anybody visited Nechisar and not found the nightjar.

Vaurie's Nightjar has the same 'unicorn' status. Interesting, not?

And I guess there are more nightjar species not yet discovered.
 

dantheman

Bah humbug
Exactly: it's impossible to define the rarest bird, which makes the title a nonsense. For starters, how is Nechisar Nightjar rarer than - say - Vaurie's Nightjar, which is also known from a single specimen (and not recorded since 1929 despite being looked for, so surely even rarer than the Rarest Bird in the World!)?

Yes, but Nechisar is only known from one wing, which is c.5 - 30% of the bird, depending on criteria used, so definitely rarer ... ;)


Was going to ask if hybrids/unknown plumages of known species/aberrant individuals were ruled out, but that would either be covered in the book or elsewhere I guess.

And of course, if no-one else has really looked properly since ...
 

DMW

Well-known member
Yes, but Nechisar is only known from one wing, which is c.5 - 30% of the bird, depending on criteria used, so definitely rarer ... ;)


Was going to ask if hybrids/unknown plumages of known species/aberrant individuals were ruled out, but that would either be covered in the book or elsewhere I guess.

And of course, if no-one else has really looked properly since ...

Good point... but on that basis I guess Double-banded Argus is much rarer than the Rarest Bird in the World!

There has been at least one recent expedition to look for nightjars at Nechisar NP: https://expeditionsolala.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/nightjars/
 

Melanie

Well-known member
I own this book since yesterday. It is indeed disappointing that there is only the photograph of the already known wing (which is (imho) much better depicted in the works by Safford and Cleere). I've thought Head and his team have made photographes in 2009.
 
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jurek

Well-known member
If there were expeditions to Nechisar NP and they failed to find the nightjar, then perhaps, the wing should be tested for DNA. Although the wing is distinctive, it could be abnormal Pennant-winged or a hybrid with Caprimulgus sp.
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
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