Edmund Jaeger

Earth Notes
5:00 am
Wed February 8, 2012

Earth Notes: The Bird that Sleeps Through Winter

Common Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttallii, offset reproduction of watercolor. Nominate race in foreground, Dusky Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttalli californicus, in background.
Louis Agassiz Fuertes (artist, 1874-1927) Bird Lore, 1926

From rodents to bats, many mammals that live in cold climates make it through the lean days of winter by hibernating without food. They find a safe place to rest, lower their body temperature and breathing rate, and wait for milder conditions. Most birds that rely on an insect diet, on the other hand, head south.

But the open mesas and canyons of the American Southwest are home to an odd exception. It’s the common poorwill, a highly camouflaged insect-eater no more than seven inches long.

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