Monday, May 23, 2005

Chuck-wills-widow, Goatsuckers, Ivorybills & Elvis

The appearance of a chuck-wills-widow in Old Lyme has drawn a lot of attention from Connecticut birders, who have been visiting Nehantic State Park since May 15 to see and hear (mostly hear) it. A relative of the whip-poor-will, the chuck-wills-widow generally begins singing shortly after 8 p.m., at least according to the accounts on this website.

The chuck-wills-widow is hardly a rarity in real terms but the local fascination seems to arise from the possibility that the bird, a southern species, might soon nest in the state. Patrick Comins, of Audubon Connecticut, told me in an e-mail:

It is pretty rare in CT with only sporadic reports every other year or so. They do seem to be increasing in regularity. It hasn't been documented as nesting in CT yet, but they have been expanding their range northward and now nest on Long Island. It is possible that they will start nesting here reasonably soon and this bird staying so long in suitable habitat is an encouraging sign. They are a really neat bird, though like most nightjars much more often seen than heard. They do seem to be a little more cooperative than Whip-Poor-Wills in this respect though.

… Whip-Poor-Wills and Common Nighthawks have really declined in the last few decades, so it is good to see that Chuck-Will's-Widows are increasing. Hopefully they will start nesting.

Chuck-wills-widows, along with whip-poor-wills common nighthawks and others, are in a category call nightjars. They’re also called goatsuckers:

With an entirely insectivorous diet, it tends to feed in areas with a good food supply; in the past, this often meant foraging around livestock, including goats, especially in places where the animals had been corralled for the night. During the summer, it would not be uncommon for at least some of the livestock to be in breeding condition or have newly born offspring, and females would therefore often have milk dripping from their teats. The shepherds and country people, seeing the shadowy nightjars around their animals at dusk and noticing the milk early in the morning, put the two circumstances together and believed that the birds were sucking milk during the night and that, as a result, their animals would eventually be sucked dry and go blind.

The chuck-wills-widow is not so rare, obviously, that its presence has to be kept secret. The ivory-billed woodpecker, on the other hand, is. Here’s the story of how the discovery of the ivorybill, code named Elvis, was kept secret.


Anonymous Bill T. said...

April 13, 2006 Ruston, LA 71270

Our Chuck-Will's-Widow has been in the same 80' Southern Pine tree for the last 3 nights with its loud but interesting lament. Quite often one can hear an answer coming from another "Chuck-Will's" from across the road.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ron Z
April 28, 2006 Oklahoma City Ok 73131

For several nights I've heard a beautifull bird in the timber towards the rear of my acreage. I finally found out it is a Chuck-Wills-Widow by researching bird songs. We have at times more migratory birds come through here in the spring than I knew existed.
11:50 PM

12:56 AM  

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