To Catch a Whippoorwill


It’s only logical, I suppose.

Variously attributed to the second-century Oppianus or to the slightly older Dionysius Periegetes, the De aucupio gives good advice to the birdcatcher eager to rid his pastures of an annoying pest:

To capture the aegithalos, or caprimulgus, smear glue on the udder of a goat. When the bird flies over the fence and into the stall and begins to suck on the goat, it can be captured when the glue gets onto its feet.



Best Bird Books, 2020

“It’s the most invidious time of the year….”

For all its horrors, 2020 did see the appearance of lots of eagerly awaited bird books. I haven’t read them all–it’s just not possible any more, given the pace of publication nowadays–but here are some favorites among those I have got around to so far. (The cover images are linked to the catalogue pages at Buteo Books.)

Peterson Reference Guide to Bird Behavior
Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, Seventh Edition
American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Hawaii
Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl
Birds of Maine

A Truly Scary Bird

And you thought skimming the occasional milk pail was bad.
Halloween seems a good time to recall that nightjars, those mysterious nocturnal flutterers, have been rumored to engage in behavior far more treacherous than merely suckling at the udders of defenseless livestock.

In 1750, the Pomeranian ornithologist Jacob Theodor Klein listed as names for the European nightjar “witch,” “night harmer,” and something that seems to mean “child smotherer.”

Some of us snooty moderns may have our doubts, but the terrifying engraving that accompanies Klein’s account convinces me. Myself, I’m keeping the windows closed til Halloween is over.