Friday, July 25, 2014

Camouflage in the Desert

Three weeks ago, my roving buddy and I were walking the Saguaro Discovery Trail at Tohono Chul Park looking for a nighthawk nest we had heard about. Suddenly,  a lesser nighthawk erupted from the ground and flew several feet away.

Where it had been sitting—under a cholla on the bare desert floor—was an olive green speckled egg.nighthawk egg cu 6-23-2014 9-06-43 AM 705x760

We did some research and learned that nighthawks usually lay two eggs. The chicks are semi-precocial, meaning that they can move about after they are hatched, but depend on parental care till they fledge, 17 days later. How can almost-helpless baby birds survive 17 days on the hot desert floor? The answer is that they are invisible!

nighthawk chicksB

nighthawk chicksA

These two amazing photos were taken by photographer John Durham and are used with his permission. He took them in the Altar Valley, somewhat southwest of Tucson.


  1. Wow! I've never seen nighthawk eggs or babies before!
    Thanks KL!

    1. I never saw the baby from the egg I photographed, but at least now I know what to look for. Amazing, no?

  2. They may be invisible, but how do they (or the eggs) survive the heat?

    1. Strange but true: birds like some doves and the nighthawk brood (sit on) the eggs to keep them from overheating! I don't know how the chicks stay cool, but they are able to move around, so perhaps they seek shade.