Some birds are rarely seen because of camouflage

Published 11:24 pm Friday, May 22, 2020

“Doctor, we have a spawn of an owl that mated with a tree branch.”

“What? Let me see. What do you have?”

I’m used to various things appearing in various containers, but usually my staff has an idea of what they took in.
Tree and owl? Sure enough the medium sized bird had the shape of a tree branch and looked exactly like bark covered it.

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I haven’t heard a whip-poor-will in years. We were out camping with the Girl Scouts. We were all alone when at dusk, we heard the call of the whip-poor-will.

I asked the girls what that was and M’Kinzy said she thought it was a Jack-o-will. I thought that was pretty good and taught them about the call of the bird.

I had last heard a whip-poor-will during my childhood.

One nested in the huge cedar that towered over our “new” house in the country. I remember it being very loud, but I never saw it.

Because they are nocturnal, whip-poor-wills are infrequently seen. It has cryptic coloring to keep it hidden during the day, also, but the loud calling at dusk makes it known wherever it breeds.

As I was teaching the girls, I realized I knew nothing of the bird.
I was surprised to look up a photo and see that a whip-poor-will was a type of nightjar. The brown, black and gray bird that is well camouflaged. As nightjars, they have huge eyes (for seeing at night), long wings, short legs and very short bills. Their feet are smaller and not very good for walking, but the long-pointed wings are excellent for keeping up with the twists and turns of their food.

The flight is almost noiseless, so they may seem to be in your face before you realize they are there.

Nightjars usually nest on the ground and feed mostly on moths and other large flying insects. Like the insects they eat, they are mostly active in the late evening and early morning. The nest is made in the spring on the ground.

Two eggs will be laid in a few leaves lying on the ground. They are light gray or white, with brown and lilac markings often arranged in lines or blotches.

The eggs are laid so they hatch about 10 days before a full moon. This allows the adults to forage the entire night, and so best provide the nestlings with insects.

The record number of calls in a row by a single bird is 1,088, perhaps the reason for their species name, “vociferous.” The same bird makes the distinctive call, also makes a shrill, almost painful, penetrating screak.

A relative, the Common Poorwill, is unique as a bird because it undergoes a form of hibernation.
It is reported to becoming torpid and with a much-reduced body temperature for weeks or months.

Other nightjars may be able to enter a state of torpor for shorter periods.

Other whip-poor-will facts: they are collectively known as an “invisibility” and/or a “seek” of whip-poor-wills.
Whippoorwills inhabit the eastern portion of the United States and west to eastern North and South Dakota and Nebraska, which is why when we moved to Missouri (as east as I had ever lived), I heard them for the first time.

And for the first time, Kaylee and M’Kinzy heard a whip-poor-will. And just as I, neither of them will ever forget the distinctive loud call.

Tonight, I will take the tree branch and owl spawn and release it. We have fed it, radiographed it and it is ready to go. We have woods near the house and I hope it does well, but I also hope it moves along to a new territory.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. 606-928-6566