Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chuck-will's-widow

My friend, Jim, saw this female sitting on eggs on the ground about a week ago, and I talked him into taking me there to see her. She now has 2 chicks, but they can't be seen in this photo. Actually, when I was there, I couldn't see them at all. She must've have hidden them after Jim was there earlier.

This Chuck-will's-widow is in the nightjar family and is a ground nesting bird. In fact, they don't build a nest at all. They just lay on the ground, usually on some dead leaves and lay their eggs right there. The eggs hatch in about 19 days and the fledge from the nest in about 2 weeks.

Another unusual thing about this bird is that they feed in flight. Their diet consists entirely of insects. They are nocturnal and they fly around with their mouths open catching insects as they run into them. It's difficult to see in this photo, but they have hairs on the side of their beaks that assist them with catching their prey.

I can't believe their camouflage! Jim said he wouldn't have noticed her, but he was stepping and brushing leaves around that log looking for snakes to photograph, when he spotted her. She allowed him to get about 15 feet from her and she didn't seem bothered a bit.

Yesterday, when he took me to see her, I kept my distance at first, and walked in very slowly, stopping every few inches and snapping off a couple of shots. She paid no attention to me at all. I guess she knew her hatchlings were safe and she didn't have anything to worry about.

This is the first time I've ever seen one of these birds and the first time I've ever even heard of them! She's related and looks a lot like her cousin, the Whip-poor-will. Most people have heard the Whip-poor-will, but have rarely seen one. The Chuck-will's-widow is a bit bigger and has a brown chin, while the Whip-poor-will has a black chin. That's the easiest way to tell them apart. This one's identification was confirmed by the Audubon Society.

What a thrill to see this bird. It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
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