Birds of Europe make an amazing annual migration to Africa to escape the harsh winter in Europe, covering thousands of kilometers to reach their destination and then returning to their breeding grounds in Europe. The feats the birds accomplish to complete this annual migration has astonished science for a long time.

Birds often take many well known paths to reach Africa, with one such path passing through Kuwait. Known as the Eastern Flyway, this path connects Europe and parts of Asia with Africa, with Kuwait being one of the countries that the birds choose to rest and recharge on this long journey. In Kuwait, the prime resting spots of these birds are usually the oases and farmlands.

Among this group of migratory birds I was always mesmerized by the night birds like owls and night-jars. Kuwait has only three resident owls species while it is visited by four migratory owls and two night-jars . Since these are nocturnal birds they have always been characters of superstitious stories.

Let us first get to know the three resident owls of the state of Kuwait. They are the pharaoh eagle owl, little owl and western barn owl, which stay and breed in Kuwait in all seasons.. They are seen in different ecological niches of Kuwait, with the little owl seeking rocky terrains and hills, while the pharaoh eagle owl is an owl of open desert that seeks shelter in rocky valleys to breed in small natural caves. Western barn owls are entirely different from the two previous owls mentioned and actively seek shelter near human settlements and farms.

There are four species of owls that pass through Kuwait during migration: Long-eared owl, short-eared owl, pallid scops owl and Eurasian scops owl. They stay for a few days in Kuwait during the ongoing migration, and are usually found in the farms of Kuwait. Apart from the short-eared owl, all others seek shelter in big trees, whereas the short-eared owl prefers to stay on ground near desert bushes and shrubs.

Basically these visiting owls pass through when the summer heat gives way to the cooler autumn climate; a miscalculation in the arriving season will have dire consequences for the birds, because instead of the mild autumn climate they may then face the harsh summer temperatures of Kuwait, and it has been noted that many of these delayed visits often result in the demise of the bird. These unfortunate dehydration-stricken dead birds are a common sight in this transit season. Off lately it has been noted that the shift in season has been in just a matter of weeks and summer days are more into the season all pointing towards the climate change that has been happening around the globe.

Another entirely different species of night birds that pass through are the night-jars, with two species of night jars passing through Kuwait annually — the European night-jar and Egyptian night-jar. While European nightjars travel from parts of Europe to Africa, Egyptian night-jar, which is resident in south west Asia and north Africa travels to tropical Africa.

Both the birds are insectivorous and they are excellent aerial hunters who feed on the wings. They are equipped to do this amazing feat by having a small beak and a wide opening month which stretches beyond cheeks. Both birds have extremely camouflaged feather patterns that make finding them in day time very difficult. European night-jar tends to travel alone in this migration, whereas Egyptians are often found in flocks of five to ten birds and these birds are always found near open farmlands.

Like the infamous owls in witch stories, night-jars are also shady characters in British folktales, they are thought to suck milk out of goats at night, even their Latin name pertains to this as Caprimulgus roughly translating as Goat suckers. These stories are thousands of years old and it is quite intriguing that Aristotle in the 4th century BC has broadly written about these birds and the harm they cause to goats. The small beak and large mouth might be the culprit behind these misleading facts, however, in reality, these harmless birds feed only on flying insects .

Persistent efforts were needed to find and record all of these beautiful birds in a single year and it was completed last year. This was made possible by being a part of Kuwait Birders Club, which conducts regular birding expeditions to the little known areas of Kuwait.

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