Most American people know what to do Halloween night; as it has been a tradition for many years.
However, most of us rarely think about what is out there with us after dark or maybe we prefer to not think about common night time sounds.
Oddly, there was a massive thunderstorm last summer with incredible winds that made huge trees sway and after looking for downed limbs; an odd bird was spotted down on the ground. We gently picked it up and placed it in a box in the garage for some well-deserved piece of mind. Fortunately, it flew away that night after dark and it apparently had no major injuries. However, the author was lucky he got a photo of the very rarely seen bird placed in the box; as no one would believe the big eyes on this night flying bird.
As a child the author wanders fields and forests and found many downed birds and nursed many back to health; but he had never seen such a “bug-eyed bird” before after 60 years. Picking it gently up, he was utterly amazes that the small beak opened so wide it could bite my thumb.
As a youth and growing up as a naturalist, one rarely knew much about the birds one would encounter. So let’s enjoy the sounds and sights of something created by the Great Creator. Young Naturalists now days have a wealth of scientific research to ponder and know more about Nature than I ever did.
This website offers what we knew back in the late 1900s:
Eastern whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus vociferus)
“An enigmatic and extremely elusive species, the eastern whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus vociferous) has strikingly cryptic plumage. As a result, the whip-poor-will is very rarely seen, making it one of the least studied birds in North America (2) (3) (4).
This fairly vocal species is most active at dusk, and on bright, moonlit nights during the breeding season it can be heard producing the characteristic “whip-poor-will” calls for which it is named (4). The eastern whip-poor-will has a particularly large head, large, flattened eyes, and a small bill with a comparatively largemouth for scooping up night flying insects (i.e. mosquitoes & back porch night moths) during flight.”
However, further searching on the Internet can expose future naturalists now to a wealth of information.
This comprehensive web page has extensive ecological knowledge and more details about the Common Whip Poor Will!
Animal Diversity Web (ADW) is an online database of animal natural history, distribution, classification, and conservation biology at the University of Michigan
Animal Diversity Web has:
• Thousands of species accounts about individual animal species. These may include text, pictures of living animals, photographs and movies of specimens, and/or recordings of sounds. Students write the text of these accounts and we cannot guarantee their accuracy.
Descriptions of taxa above the species level, especially phyla, classes, orders and families. Hundreds of hyperlinked pages and images illustrate the traits and general biology of these groups. Professional biologists prepare these pieces, for the most part.
Animal Diversity Web Is
An Online Encyclopedia.
ADW is a large searchable encyclopedia of the natural history of animals. Every day, thousands of classroom students and informal visitors use it to answer animal questions. Other sites specialize in local, endangered, or particular kinds of animals. We aim to be as comprehensive as possible.
A Science Learning Tool.
ADW facilitates inquiry-driven learning, that is, teaching about science by leading students to use the methods of science. Our large database is structured, providing consistent information for all species to foster comparisons. Our query tool allows a user to find information on a set of species that you specify. Students can explore patterns and relationships, learn how to frame and answer scientific questions and, with the help of a good teacher, experience the excitement and satisfaction of doing science. Our long-term goal is to create a database rich enough that students can discover for themselves basic concepts in organismal and conservation biology.”
Growing up, one never dreamed about knowing so much about the critters around us and one must wonder why modern kids play video-games instead. Maybe parents need a reason and the time to walk outside with their kids to expose them all to Nature?
Here is the story of our lonely Whip Poor Will:
Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii)
“Common poorwills range throughout western North America from south central British Columbia and southwestern Saskatchewan to central Mexico.
Northern populations migrate to the southern portions of their range, from California, Arizona, and Texas to central Mexico, from September to November and return April to May.
This migration may vary by a month depending upon weather conditions and the portion of the breeding range occupied. Southern populations arrive for breeding season from February to March and leave October to November for their winter range.
Some southern populations occupy the same region year round but migrate to higher elevations for the breeding season and to lower elevations.”
“Male common poorwills establish a territory upon return to their breeding area in the spring and actively defend the territory against other males. Energy expenditure for males for calling and territory defense has been measured to be 5.1 time the usual basal metabolic rate. This means that males have one of the highest energy expenditure rates relative to basal metabolic rates when breeding as compared to other birds (>95% of other species). Females do not have similarly high levels and the field metabolic rate for males decreases over summer to near that of females by the time of the second brood.
There is no distinguishing characteristic between mating calls and songs in male common poorwills and similar vocalizations have also been reported for females. The song consists of a three note poor-will-ow sound in the 1.5 khz range. The calling frequency for males is much higher during the start of breeding season and occurs from evening through the night to dawn while on low perches or the ground.”
Maybe comparable parenting skills can give parents something to talk about outdoors with their children during a walk. It is the cheapest form of outdoor recreation I know of.
“Common poorwill pairs typically lay the first eggs soon after arrival in their breeding range in late May to June in Canadian populations. A second clutch is laid July to August in a nest approximately 100 meters from the first and the male has been reported to continue feeding the young from the first clutch even as the female incubates the second. Incubation duties are shared between males and females. There are typically two buff colored eggs per clutch laid over two consecutive days and each clutch is incubated for 20 to 21 days. Mass at hatching is reported to be about 4 grams. Nestlings are cared for a period of 20 to 22 days after hatching until they have fledged and first flight, indicating independence, is at 20 to 23 days. Nesting sites are usually on the ground in small open areas that have some shelter provided by nearby low objects such as rocks, shrubs or fallen trees. No nests are built, other than small shallow depressions on the ground. Eggs and nestlings are moved short distances of 1 to 3 meters every couple of days for thermoregulation or in response to disturbance by intruders. The age of sexual maturity for common poorwills is not known.
“Common poorwill pairs typically lay the first eggs soon after arrival in their breeding range in late May to June in Canadian populations. A second clutch is laid July to August in a nest approximately 100 meters from the first and the male has been reported to continue feeding the young from the first clutch even as the female incubates the second. Incubation duties are shared between males and females. There are typically two buff colored eggs per clutch laid over two consecutive days and each clutch is incubated for 20 to 21 days. Mass at hatching is reported to be about 4 grams. Nestlings are cared for a period of 20 to 22 days after hatching until they have fledged and first flight, indicating independence, is at 20 to 23 days.
Nesting sites are usually on the ground in small open areas that have some shelter provided by nearby low objects such as rocks, shrubs or fallen trees. No nests are built, other than small shallow depressions on the ground. Eggs and nestlings are moved short distances of 1 to 3 meters every couple of days for thermoregulation or in response to disturbance by intruders. The age of sexual maturity for common poorwills is not known.
What is “Torpor” and do kids get it?
A remarkable aspect of incubation and brooding is the ability of the parent to enter into torpor in response to inclement weather. Parents in torpor with cloacal temperatures as low as 11.5 degrees Celsius have been discovered incubating eggs. However, even though this adaptation saves parental energy, it has the consequence of reducing egg viability and results in higher rates of nest abandonment.
Common poorwills are an awkward on the ground and typically land close to their nest. Flight is close to the ground and is described as several moth-like flutters followed by a glide. They usually roost on the ground or on low hanging limbs during daytime and occasionally individuals may be found roosting together. Roost sites are almost always changed on a daily basis. The parent not brooding or incubating eggs or hatchlings will roost at sites away from the nesting area.
Even birds have needs for grooming.
“Common poorwills preen themselves with the help of a pectinated comb on the middle claw that may assist with parasite removal. They also dust bathe. Behavior noted in captive and wild common poorwills is a rocking movement for 3 to 15 seconds prior to initiating scratching or preening. They have been observed holding their wings in a vertical position after landing for 5 to 10 seconds before snapping back into folded position and remaining still. The reason for these last two behaviors are not clear.
“Common poorwills have large eyes suited for seeing in low light conditions and from positions on ground or on low perches. Vision and hearing are thus the two primary senses used by this species to assess surroundings”
“Common poorwills are insectivorous, with a diet consisting largely of night flying beetles (Coleoptera) and moths (Lepidoptera). Other insect orders do not exceed 10 % of the diet, as determined by analysis of fecal pellets. Prey appears to be selected for size with minimum lengths of 5 to 7 mm. This selectivity may maximize the energy obtained from food sources or it may represent the lower limit of the insects that can be visually detected in low light conditions. One study estimated that common poorwills make 200 to 300 flights per night to obtain a minimum of 9.7 g of insects to maintain weight during the breeding season. Hunting is in low light conditions from dusk to dawn.
There appears to be a minimum amount of light required, as hunting activity increases during moonlight nights compared to dark nights. Common poorwills use an ambush hunting style, as they prefer to wait on the ground or low perch and fly almost vertically upwards to a maximum of 3 meters once a desired insect has been spotted. Long flights for foraging are rare and most last about three seconds before they return to the ground. Large eyes adapted for low light conditions and a large gaping mouth for prey capture are adaptations that enhance this hunting style.
“Common poorwills have several behavioral adaptations to minimize predation. These include nocturnal activity to avoid most daytime predators and sitting still when roosting or when on the nest, to prevent movement from being detected. Incubating parents may attempt to lead intruders away from the nest by feigning injury and landing close by to the nest once flushed. Moving the eggs and nestlings also helps prevent detection by predators since the buildup of fecal matter reveals their presence to some predators. In addition, their cryptic coloration makes them difficult to detect. Common poorwill may limit their calling when they hear calls by predatory nocturnal animals like owls.
Nonetheless, losses due to predation can be high and numerous species are recorded or are strongly suspected to be predators of P. nuttallii. These include, but are not limited to, northern harriers, great horned owls, western screech-owls coyotes, badgers, foxes, skunks, rattlesnakes, and gopher snakes.
Keeping wild birds around for future generations has become a popular family outdoor activity and coming soon you can help:
Christmas Bird Count
“The 114th Christmas Bird Count will take place from December 14, 2013 through January 5, 2014.
Introducing American Birds: Your Citizen Science Newsletter. Read the August 2013 edition.
Sign up to receive American Birds online by going to the Portland entering your email address just to the right of "Want to keep up with Citizen Science?" “
Alderfer, J. 2006. National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by activity during the night and ... but by the amount of time (i.e. temporal division of the ecological niche).
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