How this bird species is putting the spotlight on local biodiversity

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Photo: Mark Smiles

A species of bird thought to be a rare visitor to our skies has been found to be breeding in the Abu Dhabi desert, according to the findings of a new study.

Reported in a paper in Sandgrouse, a journal published by the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Egyptian nightjar, usually a non breeding visiting bird, has been found to be raising its young in areas of Ajban, in the Western Region.

The bird is characterised by its sandy-coloured plumage and small bill, allowing it to camouflage with the ground where it makes its nest, and was first spotted in the area in 2013 by Emirati bird photographer Mohammed Hamad Al Mazrouei.

“Because of its nocturnal nature and the fact that it lives in remote places, it’s actually a very poorly studied bird,” noted Oscar Campbell, who co-authored the paper with fellow birdwatcher Mark Smiles.

“We could tell from the picture [taken by Al Mazrouei] that it was a juvenile, so the question for us was if it was locally bred or if it had possibly come from further away,” he added.

Following promising research visits to the site, Oscar and Mark finally found a nest in 2016, showing that the bird has been making the desert scrub its breeding ground from March to September in recent years.

Young chicks 2016_MS

“Ajban is undisturbed desert. It’s the right habitat in that it’s lowland desert and not rocky or mountainous,” Oscar explained.

“What this means for Abu Dhabi’s biodiversity is that there’s quite a lot to learn. “If you can discover a bird like that here, the implication is that there must be many other insects and flowers that have never been documented.”

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