Goatsuckers

The Caprimulgidae family of goatsuckers are named because they were thought to suckle milk from goats. The Greeks thought so, and their man Aristotle was sure of it; the Romans ran with him, I mean, Aristotle, right? and then Linnaeus followed them. All wrong, like a good many other traditions: the birds are actually flying insect-gobblers; their tiny-looking bills opening wide to gaping bug-catching mouths, with bristles that may help channel even more bugs to their doom.

Classed in the Caprimulgidae are the nightjars, like the Whip-poor-will, one of which I spotted in Prospect Park a few years ago and the Chuck-will’s-widow, which I’ve only heard. (A few lucky Brooklynites saw one perched on a tombstone in Green-Wood this past weekend.)Nyctidromus albicollisThere is also the Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis). This is a ground-roosting species common throughout the American tropics and just a little tiny bit of the U.S. We saw some at Estero Llano Grande State Park. One was with her two young; the birds were so well ensconced in the brush they were hard to see and impossible to photograph. You can see how their plumage mixes in with leaf-litter. But this bird was much closer to the path:Nyctidromus albicollisThe “jar” of nightjar is thought to refer to the European Nightjar’s jarring call. Of such slender feathers are names built upon.

In addition to the nightjars, which are more fully nocturnal, the Caprimulgidae also include the nighthawks. These birds are more active at dawn and dusk, and with their pointed wings and swooping flight look rather hawkish, specifically falcon-like. The Common Nighthawk can be seen over Prospect Park. The Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis) is found only in our Southwest (and further south). We saw some of these overhead in Bentsen State Park at twilight, but got a really good look at one flying in the afternoon at the South Padre Island Convention Center (a birding hotspot, with garden and boardwalk). On our way out of the Convention Center grounds, which was host to a vroom-varoom! motorcycle convention, we saw this Lesser perched:Chordeiles acutipennis

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