Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Friday, May 11, 2007


We Northern Utahns share our territory with two goatsucker species. The Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is, as its name implies, common. It lives in a variety of habitats, including the heart of the city, where numerous pairs nest on flat rooftops. In early fall and late spring, these insectivores often form large, loose migration rafts. Far less conspicuous is the little Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii). Though it's not rare in the surrounding hills, it's less plentiful than its larger cousin, and more shy and strictly nocturnal. That's why I was happily surprised to see an adult male Poorwill fly right over my head as I exited the grocery store this morning. Never before have I seen one of these birds in an urban setting. Poorwills are famous for hibernating during the winter, but as far as I know, their precise winter habits are still poorly understood. While some individuals hibernate, others engage in seasonal migrations like the nighthawks. The how and why of the difference is a mystery. I would guess the bird I saw today had spent the night migrating, and as the eastern sky began to lighten it bedded down on a parking strip or other spot where its slumber was inevitably disturbed by the 9am urban commotion. Your insights on Poorwill behavior are solicited.
Poorwill photographed by CPBvK in Tooele Co., UT c. 1984


Blogger Steve Bodio said...

A couple of years ago some kids brought me a torpid specimen in the fall, after frost. It just sat with its eyes shut. I brought it down to the (warmer) Rio Grande valley and placed it in a niche under a railroad bridge. When I checked later it was gone.

8:42 AM  

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