Operation roadkill

Joshua Tewksbury (left) hangs off the back of his truck as it rumbles from one field site to the next in southern Bolivia. At night, the team will be scanning these same roads for nightjars. Credit: Courtesy of Brendan Borrell" />Joshua Tewksbury (left) hangs off the back of his truck as it rumbles from one field site to the next in southern Bolivia. At night, the team will be scanning these same roads for nightjars. Credit: Courtesy of Brendan Borrell Ecologist Joshua Tewksbury and h

Brendan Borrell
Dec 1, 2007
<figcaption>Joshua Tewksbury (left) hangs off the back of his truck as it rumbles from one field site to the next in southern Bolivia. At night, the team will be scanning these same roads for nightjars. Credit: Courtesy of Brendan Borrell</figcaption>
Joshua Tewksbury (left) hangs off the back of his truck as it rumbles from one field site to the next in southern Bolivia. At night, the team will be scanning these same roads for nightjars. Credit: Courtesy of Brendan Borrell

Ecologist Joshua Tewksbury and his team from the University of Washington in Seattle were rumbling along a road in southern Bolivia one night last spring with a truck full of plant samples, when a pair of yellow eyes materialized in the middle of the track. It was a Nyctidromus albicollis, also known as a nightjar, a medium-sized nocturnal bird with long wings, short legs, and a squat head. In Tewksbury's experience, nightjars are wise enough to fly away from approaching vehicles. But this one refused to budge. The truck made no attempt to stop, and the bird vanished underneath. That was that. Like Schrödinger's cat, it was unclear whether...