From The Vault: Common Nighthawk

Common nighthawk roosting on fencepost. Pawnee National Grassland, CO

While working on my Prairie Thunder book in 2006, I visited the Pawnee Grassland on a particularly hot July day. I made a lot of these missions for the project where I’d leave home in the afternoon and blast up to the Pawnee until sunset, then make the long drive home in absolute darkness. With the thermometer pushing near 100 degrees, this nighthawk roosted on a fencepost, waiting for darkness when insects come out. A member of the goatsucker family, nighthawks have wide mouths to help them snare insects in flight. Listen for their nasally peeent call at dusk and marvel at their ability to instantly change direction in mid-air. I’ve long wondered about the term “goatsucker”, so I looked it up using the Google box. Oxford says the origin began with the European nightjar: early 17th century: so named because the bird was thought to suck goats’ udders. Thanks Oxford, I’ll probably have a nightmare about this.

6 thoughts on “From The Vault: Common Nighthawk

  1. I think your udder is safe, Dave. And with all the goat udders hanging around at my place, we’ve never had a problem (that we know of). But seriously–I love marvel at these birds when it’s just dusky enough that you can only see the stripes on their wings.

    Keep up the great posts.

    1. You do have more udders hanging around than anyone I know 🙂 Some of those old European superstitions are straight out of a Steven King novel. Come to think of it, that would make a great bog post. hmmmm Nighthawks are a seriously cool bird to watch until it’s so dark that you can only hear the peeent as they whiz by – it’s good to know you’re a fellow admirer of goatsuckers.

  2. The look on the hawks face shows the discomfort of the heat. It may even be at a point of dosing off to sleep. And, thanks for the vital information on the term “goatsucker”, which I had never heard of before.

    1. The light was just getting good (when I made the image) and it’s not uncommon to see many nighthawks on posts in the Pawnee. Late that evening on the return home they were roosting on the road, seemingly soaking up warmth. Fascinating creatures that I’d like to know more about.

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