Birds – Whippoorwill

(Antrostomus vociferus) Goatsucker family

Length—9 to 10 inches. About the size of the robin. Apparently much larger, because of its long wings and wide wing-spread.

Male—A long winged bird, mottled all over with reddish brown, grayish black, and dusky white; numerous bristles fringing the large mouth. A narrow white band across the upper breast. Tail quills on the end and under side white.

Female—Similar to male, except that the tail is dusky in color where that of the male is white. Band on breast buff instead of white.

Range—United States, to the plains. Not common near the sea. Migrations—Late April to middle of September. Summer resident.

The whippoorwill, because of its nocturnal habits and plaintive note, is invested with a reputation for occult power which inspires a chilling awe among superstitious people, and leads them insanely to attribute to it an evil influence ; but it is a harmless, useful night prowler, flying low and catching enormous numbers of hurtful insects, always the winged varieties, in its peculiar fly-trap mouth.

It loves the rocky, solitary woods, where it sleeps all day; but it is seldom seen, even after painstaking search, because of its dull, mottled markings conforming so nearly to rocks and dry leaves, and because of its unusual habit of stretching itself length-wise on a tree branch or ledge, where it is easily confounded with a patch of lichen, and thus overlooked. If by accident one happens upon a sleeping bird, it suddenly rouses and flies away, making no more sound than a passing butterfly—a curious and uncanny silence that is quite remarkable. When the sun goes down and as the gloaming deepens, the bird’s activity increases, and it begins its nightly duties, emitting from time to time, like a sentry on his post or a watchman of the night, the doleful call which has given the bird its common name. It

” Mourns unseen, and ceaseless sings Ever a note of wail and woe,”

that our Dutch ancestors interpreted as ” Quote-kerr-kee,” and so called it. They had a tradition that no frost ever appeared after the bird had been heard calling in the spring, and that it wisely left for warmer skies before frost came in the autumn. Prudent bird, never caught napping !

It is erratic in its choice of habitations, even when rock and solitude seem suited to its taste. Very rarely is this odd bird found close to the seashore, and in the Hudson River valley it keeps a half mile or more back from the river.

The eggs, generally two in number, are creamy white, dashed with dark and olive spots, and laid on the ground on dry leaves, or in a little hollow in rock or stump—never in a nest built with loving care. But in extenuation of such carelessness it may be said that, if disturbed or threatened, the mother shows no lack of maternal instinct, and removes her young, carrying them in her beak as a cat conveys her kittens to secure shelter.