National Geographic : 1932 Jul
HUMMING BIRDS, SWIFTS, AND GOATSUCKERS WHIPPOORWILL (Antrostomus vocif- CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOW (Antrostomus erus) carolinensis) To most the whippoorwill is a voice of the night, that repeats its name loudly and persist ently in the evening and again before dawn, and by many is supposed to be the same as the night hawk, that is seen frequently by day. That the two are distinct species can be seen easily by comparison of the figures and accounts here given. Rarely in daytime whippoorwills may be flushed in the thickets in which they sleep during the daylight hours, resting on the ground or on low limbs, where they always perch lengthwise of the branch. In either case their mottled col oration is so similar to the background against which they rest that they are not seen until they rise in flight and dart away with noiseless wings. When heard near at hand, the call is loud and strident, and it is found that usually there is a low, harsh note at the beginning, in addition to the three syllables ordinarily heard, so that the call resembles chuck-whip-poor-will. It comes more pleasantly to the ear when its loudness is softened by distance. The birds may call from the ground, but more usually perch on posts, on fallen logs, or on the limbs of trees. In camping in their range, I have had them fly in to scold with low notes at the apparition of a tent suddenly erected in their usual haunts, and on one occasion, while sleeping on the ground in a light rain, had one perch on the canvas I had drawn over my head. Their calls are most vociferous in spring and summer, but are continued occasionally until their de parture in fall. The food of the whippoorwill is entirely ani mal, consisting principally of large insects. Oc casionally, at dusk or in exceptionally bright moonlight, they may be seen darting up from some open perch to seize passing insects, their food, so far as known, being taken principally on the wing. The whippoorwill deposits its eggs on a bed of leaves, without other pretense of a nest than the slight hollow sufficient to hold them. The site chosen is secluded and little disturbed and ordi narily is heavily shaded by bushes. The eggs number two, in the bird of the Eastern States being white blotched and spotted with various shades of brown and lilac. The eggs of Stephen's whippoorwill, the Western form, are pure white. When disturbed, the female tumbles about with widely spread mouth, uttering strange whining, hissing sounds, in an endeavor to distract the at tention of the intruder from her treasures. The illustration shows the adult male, the female being similar, but having the light tips to the outer tail feathers buff instead of white, and the general coloration browner. The eastern whippoorwill nests from Mani toba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia south to northern Louisiana and northwestern South Carolina, and west to eastern North Dakota and eastern Kansas. It is found in winter from the lowlands of South Carolina to Central America. Stephen's whippoorwill (Antrostomus vocif crus arisonac) is similar in color, but is larger, with the bristles about the mouth longer and stouter. It is found from southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and southwestern Texas south through the mountains of northern Mex ico. In winter it ranges south to Guatemala. The present species is the largest of its family found within our limits, being from ten and one half to nearly thirteen inches long. The mouth seems enormously broad and capacious when the small size of the bill is considered, and is bor dered by long bristles that differ from those of any of our other goatsuckers in having lateral filaments instead of being smooth. The bird fig ured is a male, the female differing in having the inner webs of the outer tail feathers mottled instead of white or buffy white. The chuck-will's-widow is another nocturnal species that inhabits woodlands, being found in densely wooded swamps or rock-strewn hillsides. During the day it rests on the ground or perches longitudinally along low limbs near the earth, where it is shaded from the sun, or enters hollow logs, where it is entirely concealed. The flight of this species, and of its relatives, is noiseless, so that when disturbed it darts away without the slightest sound. At nightfall it flies forth to take up search for food and other activities. Like the whippoor will, it derives its common name from its call of chuck-will's-widow, the first note being low and the first syllable of the third strongly accented. This call is repeated in regular chorus and is audible for long distances. As already indicated, the mouth of this bird is tremendous, so that it is fully two inches across from corner to corner. More than half of its food is composed of large beetles, among them May beetles, or "June bugs," seemingly harsh and unpalatable fare. Other insects taken in clude the largest kinds of dragon flies, large moths, locusts, and roaches. Apparently any thing of proper size is swallowed; small birds, including among them warblers, small sparrows, and humming birds, have been found in stomachs of this species by many observers. The greater part of the food, however, consists of insects. The chuck-will's-widow makes no nest, placing its two eggs on dry leaves or occasionally on the bare ground, in wooded localities where the earth is well drained, so that the nest site will not be flooded by rains. The eggs are handsome, hav ing a ground color varying from rich cream buff to nearly white, marbled, and spotted with various shades of brown, lavender, and gray. When a nest is discovered the female tries frantically to draw the intruder away by flutter ing and tumbling on the ground as if injured. The mouth is widely opened at such times and the bird presents a most grotesque and strange appearance. Some have claimed that this bird, like the whippoorwill, when disturbed at its nest, will move the eggs to another site, carrying them in its capacious mouth; but this has not been certainly established and is disputed as untrue by several observers. The young, when first hatched, are covered with long down of a peculiar cin namon-buff shade. The chuck-will's-widow nests principally in the Lower Austral Zone, in the southeastern United States, from southern Missouri and southeastern Kansas and southern (occasionally central) Maryland south to the Gulf States and central Texas. In winter it is found from Florida to the Greater Antilles, Central America, and Colombia.