Can you see the bird in the image above? I certainly couldn’t for quite a while. That might be because this bird is particularly good at finding where to conceal itself.
A new study, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests just that. Scientists from the University of Exeter and University of Cambridge say that some animals that rely on camouflage are pretty good at finding the best place to hide.
The bird above is a nightjar, but this study also investigated plovers and coursers. According to the specific patterns and colors of each, they seemed to adjust their choices of where to nest.
"Each individual bird looks a little bit different, and we have shown that they can act individually," said project co-leader Professor Martin Stevens from the University of Exeter in a statement.
"Individual birds consistently sit in places that enhance their own unique markings, both within a habitat, and at a fine scale with regards to specific background sites."
The study was carried out in Zambia. However, while this trait of finding similar backgrounds was discovered, the researchers noted they weren’t exactly sure how individuals chose their particular spot.
It may be they know what they look like, or they may simply learn over time which locations protect their eggs best from predators. This would then correlate with the locations where they are most camouflaged.
"We tend to think about camouflage as something that involves gradual evolutionary change in appearance – we don't often think of it as a matter of individual animal behaviour,” added project co-leader Professor Claire Spottiswood from the University of Cambridge. “This research helps us understand how behaviour and appearance are linked.”
This particular tactic is known as mimicry, and it has been seen in other animals before. For example, the walking stick and walking leaf insects, as their names suggest, are particularly good at matching bits of shrubbery. Others, like deer and squirrels, more passively attempt background matching by simply being earth-toned in coloration.
But it wasn’t clear before that birds like nightjars actively looked for spots where they wouldn’t be seen. Now it seems that, knowingly or unknowingly, they actually do. And that’s pretty neat.
Oh and by the way, both of the birds in the images above are hiding near the middle. If you hadn't spotted them yet.