Old goatherds swear how all night long they hear
The warning whirr and burring of the bird
Who wakes with darkness and till dawn works hard
Vampiring dry of milk each great goat udder…
Shudder… excuse me while I interrupt this daring verse, entitled Goatsucker by Sylvia Plath, to explain why it is apropos of the newest I and the Bird. Goatsucker is but one of many aspersions cast at the humble species of the Order Caprimulgiformes, a ragtag collection of frogmouths, pauraques, potoos, and poorwills that has been vilified throughout the ages, mocked for their physical peculiarities, feared for their nocturnal proclivities.
Moon full, moon dark, the chary dairy farmer
Dreams that his fattest cattle dwindle, fevered
By claw-cuts of the Goatsucker, alias Devil-bird,
Its eye, flashlit, a chip of ruby fire.
Members of the Family Caprimulgidae, the goatsuckers of goatsuckers if you will, are truly fascinating. These birds, known collectively as nightjars, are possessed of wide gapes and capacious gullets, not to mention long rictal bristles rimming the mouth. These whiskers, absent in nighthawks, facilitate flycatching and moth munching, not udder embezzlement. Thus, the brilliant light of scientific inquiry dispels yet another slanderous myth.
So fables say the Goatsucker moves, masked from men’s sight
In an ebony air, on wings of witch cloth,
Well-named, ill-famed a knavish fly-by-night,
Yet it never milked any goat, nor dealt cow death
And shadows only – cave-mouth bristle beset –
Cockchafers and the wan, green luna moth.
The host of our newest I and the Bird may be known in blogging circles as The Nightjar, but he does not, to my knowledge, perpetrate any of the atrocities his namesakes have been accused of nor consort with cockchafers (a European beetle, oh ye of overactive imagination.) Instead, he writes about a variety of engaging topics dear to my heart like sports and avifauna. Today, he’s presented a delirious sci-fi themed edition of I and the Bird #58.
Have you got the inside scoop on avian indiscretions? Do you set the record straight about just how wild some wild birds can get? Inquiring I and the Bird minds want to know. Our next host is the sensational Summer at Naturalist Notebook. Send a link to your best bird-related post to me or Summer (dpixie AT demented-pixie DOT com) by Tuesday, October 2 for the October 4 edition.