October 26, 2012
Yes, the first Goatsucker has been found in our new wildlife gardens! No, I'm not talking about a weird new species of goat parasite, I'm actually talking about a type of owl-like bird. Goatsuckers, a.k.a. nightjars, are members of the family Caprimulgidae, which comes from the Latin word Caprimulgus, literally meaning goatsucker. The Latin name came about because of the mistaken belief that these birds would swoop under milking goats to steal milk from the teat!
Common Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttalli, found on North Campus Here's what Kimball Garrett, our awesome Ornithologist, has to say about the Common Poorwill (the specific type of Goatsucker) we found: "It certainly appears that October is the month to find Common Poorwills (Phalaenoptilus nuttalli) around here. The previous two Exposition Park records are for 1 October 1973 (a specimen in the collection), and 12 October 2005 (a bird seen by me and some of my volunteers along the NW wall of the Rose Garden), Poorwills catch insect prey (mainly moths and beetles) by sallying from the ground up into the air, especially from dusk through the evening. They’re often seen on paved roads on warm summer and fall evenings – presumably taking advantage of the warmth retained in the asphalt and perhaps elevated numbers of insect prey in that warm microenvironment. The species is named after its call, often heard on warm evenings on the breeding grounds. Although some individuals seem to be year-round residents, others individuals (especially those from more northerly or interior breeding populations) are migratory. Observations and specimen evidence suggest that the main fall movement into/through the lowlands of the Los Angeles Basin occurs in October. The nearest breeding areas are on dry chaparral slopes of Griffith Park and elsewhere in the Santa Monica Mtns. (and poorwills are even more common in rocky desert and mountain areas farther inland). In some parts of their range poorwills are known to undergo torpor on cold winter nights, some even hibernating for extended periods." Whoa! Did Kimball just say these birds hibernate? Remember that tidbit for your next trivia contest! But wait there's more! Did you know birds pant sometimes, to keep themselves cool just a like dogs do? To be more precise, scientists call it gular fluttering and Sam Easterson caught a video of it: Wow, that's an impressive gular you have there Mr. Goatsucker!