National Geographic : 1953 Feb
274 Author and Students Photograph a Poorwill's Don Ollis Hide-out in California's Colorado Desert Chance discovery in this canyon made ornithological history. Men had always assumed that the poorwill, western cousin of the eastern whippoorwill, flew south for the winter, but a cavity in the rock exposed a bird in the first authenticated example of true avian hibernation (opposite). Dr. Edmund C. Jaeger (in jacket) is assisted (left to right) by Ross Detwiler, Jack Caudry, and Frank Sherman. ment. Finally I picked up the poorwill and began moving it about in my hands, first cautiously, then with greatest freedom, the better to examine its strange beak and small feet. I noticed that both the closed eyelids and feet were cold (page 279). The "Dead" Bird Winks an Eye I decided to put the bird back into its crypt, but as I was doing so I noticed that it momen tarily opened and shut an eye. "This is no dead bird," I said. "Do you suppose it could be in some state of winter sleep?" At that moment I recalled the experience of my ornithologist friend, Wilson C. Hanna, who had told me of a strange discovery he had made some 40 years earlier. During the winter he had found a group of white-throated swifts in a comatose condition, hidden deep in a damp, cold rock crevice on Slover Moun tain near Colton, California. Then too there came to mind the recent account by another ornithologist of a poorwill found inside a hollow log in early spring. Unfortunately we had to leave for our home in Riverside too soon to make further observa tions. But 10 days later I came back to the canyon with Lloyd Mason Smith, director of the Palm Springs Desert Museum, hoping if possible to show him my remarkable find. Sure enough, there was our poorwill still in its rock niche with no sign that it had moved so much as a feather. I now confidently reached forward and gently picked it up. But as I did so, it sur prised me by making several strange "puffy" sounds, as if expelling air from its lungs.