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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hawk Imposter Returns

While sitting on my roof at sunset last night I heard then spotted a single Common Nighthawk flying back and forth above Prospect Park's Long Meadow. Nighthawks have been curiously missing from Brooklyn this spring so it was a welcome sight. I've always enjoyed the "peenting" sound of this bird as it reminds me of summer. They used to be present in my neighborhood throughout the dog-days, presumably nesting on the roofs of brownstones adjacent to the park. I could hear their call cutting through the darkness and ambient city sounds while walking along the neighborhood's commercial strip. From my roof I've noticed over the years that more and more residents have installed decks, replacing the gravel rooftops that had attracted breeding nighthawks. Despite their common name, nighthawks are not related to hawks, but are part of the family of birds that include Chuck-will's-widow and Whip-poor-will. The family name "caprimulgidae", means "goatsucker". According to Diana Wells in "100 Birds and How They Got Their Names", "Goatsuckers often stay near livestock, where the insects they eat congregate. It was once thought that at night they also sucked the milk of goats, whereupon, wrote Aristotle, 'the udder withers and the goat goes blind.'" Hmmm, makes perfect sense...

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