Today is Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Invasion From Above

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Common Nighthawk (Bullbat)

Looking out my backdoor, this is not a song by Credence Clearwater Revival, but physically looking out my back window, I did notice that since Dove season has started that I seem to have a few more visitors to my feeders. We didn't get to do our usual Saturday thing due to a birthday and a funeral. You can count on one thing for sure and that is Doves will be more wary and also much faster out in the countryside.

Thursday evening, after fixing a flat tire on his riding mower, Anthony Gray got my yard looking in tip top shape. Grabbing a Pepsi, we sat down in the yard chairs to cool off a bit. It can get very tiring watching Bubba mow the grass. About the only thing I could do was move things out of his way, and retrieve him a cold "drank" from the fridge. Just about every time that grass is cut, you can count on the insect activity to be on the increase. Dragonflies seemed to be everywhere catching small insects on the wing. That was pretty cool and then came the invasion from above.

It all started with only one family, and then it seemed that all of their neighbors joined in the melee. Common Nighthawks, ( Chordeiles minor ) were flying all over the place eating with their big mouth open, feasting on the deluge of available flying bugs. Usually, you will find these birds up much higher, but these were well below the height of the surrounding houses. They darted about on swift wings, almost hurling themselves in our direction, only to stop on a dime and then, head the other way. In all my years, I have never witnessed anything as was their behavior that evening. They are mostly a nocturnal creature, starting their foray around dusk and staying out till about dawn.

Nighthawks come here from South America in mid spring as they can't get ahead of their food source, which is flying insects. They are in the same boat as our Purple Martins. After mating, the female will lay two eggs on a rocky spot in a field, or even in the creek rocks that make up flat roofs of buildings. For years, when I lived on West Forrest, a pair would nest on the apartment building behind my home. In the spring I would enjoy the starting of warm weather and sit outside on my driveway and listen to them as the male would perform an aerial display for his honey as she sat on her eggs. His erratic flight would take him up several hundred feet and then, like a dive bomber he would drop like a rock until he was just a few feet above from where she was watching, and then pull up so quickly that the wind coming through the wings would make a roaring sound. Because of the sound of their dive and their bat like flight, many people would call them ( Bull-bats ). To me, their vocals sound like  "Spenk", over and over, all night long.

Nighthawks are also grouped with ( Goatsuckers ) which include the Whip-poor-will and the Chuck-wills-widow, because of old-timers misconceptions that they drank milk from a goat's teat. They are around 8 to 10 inches in length with a flattened head. Their long slender wings runs from 20 to 24 inches and overlaps a notched tail, when they are at rest. Looking at their mouth, you would be surprised at how large it actually is. Intricate patterns of gray, black, and brown make up this birds ensemble. There is a white spot underneath it's head and two white wing bars, which really shows up when they are in flight.

It is getting close to the time for them to return to their winter home and you may see them by the hundreds wheeling and soaring above a football field, where flying insects are attracted to the bright lights by the thousands. They need to fill up their body reserves before heading back to warmer weather in South America.

Don't forget to keep your Hummingbird feeders topped of with sugar water as you should see a surge in the numbers of Hummers getting ready to leave this area. I plan to place out several more feeders this September, and usually around the first of October, they should all be gone.

I would love to hear from you as to what's lurking about in your neighborhood and at your feeders. You can write me at, 606 Fairview Ave., Lebanon, TN, 37087, or e-mail me at,

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Our Feathered Friends
Anthony Gray, Common Nighthawk, Ray Pope
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