Text and photos by Suzi Duncan (unless otherwise specified)
Not an owl not a nightjar but an owlet-nightjar.
It is found in open woodland across Australia and in southern New Guinea. It is the most common of the owlet-nightjars, and the best known of this secretive family. It is the smallest and possibly most common and widespread nocturnal bird in Australia, and despite suffering from predation and competition by introduced species it is not considered threatened. Grey upperparts and a white, barred front and a distinct dark and pale patterning on the head. In the north of Australia females can also have a rufous morph. The plumage is overall paler in desert populations. It is adapted to live in open woodland, with more pointed wings and larger feet, unlike most of the rest of the family that live in dense forest (though some can and do live in such habitat in Queensland and New Guinea) .
It is not a raptor.
The Owlet-nightjar is in many ways similar to a Frogmouth.
It feeds at night by diving from perches and snatching insects from the air, ground or off trunks and branches, its flight is very acrobatic similar to that of a flycatcher. It may also feed on the wing. It feeds on most insects, particularly beetles, grasshoppers and ants. It grabs prey with its small flat broad beak. It does nor have the strong powerful legs and talons that a bird of prey has.
During the day they roost in hollows in trees, partly for protection from predators and partly to avoid being mobbed by other birds that mistake them for owls.
The Owlet-nightjar is easily harassed out of it’s hole by a number of bigger birds and even brushtail possums. This small bird has a tiny broad bill, cat like whiskers, pink feet and a longish tail. Its large brown eyes do not reflect light strongly unlike other Nightjars.
Although being common the Owlet-nightjar is not often seen because of spending its days roosting in a hollow. It can sometimes be seen peering curiously from the hollow or sitting in the entrance sunning itself, especially on cold, sunny winter mornings. Due to the markings on its head it is frequently mistaken for a Sugar glider.
Note the similar facial pattern and colour between the Sugar Glider and the local Owlet Nightjar
On observation, every night for half an hour before leaving the hollow the Owlet-nightjar does exercises, stretching and flexing getting ready for flight. This was a nightly routine. Its departure is very quick. You do not actually register it with your own eyes. Departure and return to the hollow were never picked up by a trail camera nor was it caught by my own camera. The best I could get was a grey streak.