Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bulbats Mean Summer

I was coming out of the grocery after work and heard the distinctive call of the Common Nighthawk overhead. Since these crepuscular (fancy word for active at dawn and dusk) birds are only here in the summer, I always associate their calls with warm weather.

When I first moved here, I kept hearing people talk about "bulbats." I truly thought they were talking about big bats. But no, bulbat is the common name in this area for common nighthawks. Probably because many people think they fly like bats. Add that to the fact they are seen more at twilight, and one can understand where this name may have originated.

These birds feed on the wing; a bird that can't fly well is a dead bird. They cannot pick up food--they have a very delicate mouth that opens rather like seine which scoops insects out of the air. It is really interesting. The beak is so tiny, but when they open their mouths, the mouth looks bigger than their entire head. Although their common call is a scratchy screee noise, occasionally, you'll hear a louder "booming" noise when they dive. Although it is not extremely loud, this can be disconcerting when it is dark and you don't see the bird next to you.

Good birding!


Jim said...

Just goes to show a person can learn something new no matter how well they think they know their home turf. I've lived in this neck of the Rolling Plains nearly 60 (no, that ain't a typo, its an honest-to-goodness 60) years and have never heard of "bulbats" before now! Rain crows, yeah, but never bulbats. Thanks for the enlightenment!

Penny said...

Jim, a lot of common names out there; sometimes more than one name for the same bird. The rain crow is the yellow-billed cuckoo. I like the name snow bird, which is the dark-eyed junco. I'll probably do a post about this soon because it is so interesting.