Friday, May 15, 2009

the mythic whippoorwill

A Feather From the Whippoorwill by Emily Dickinson

A feather from the Whippoorwill
That everlasting -- sings!
Whose galleries -- are Sunrise --
Whose Opera -- the Springs --
Whose Emerald Nest the Ages spin
Of mellow -- murmuring thread --
Whose Beryl Egg, what
Schoolboys hunt
In "Recess" -- Overhead!

Every evening after sundown the Whippoorwill calls. Although that familiar cry is a sign that Spring has been firmly established, I've never actually seen one of these birds. Have you? The poem above is in error. Schoolboys couldn't have searched for the Whippoorwill eggs overhead (assuming they searched in a tree for a nest). Whippoorwills don't build nests, they simply lay their eggs on the ground.

I found this picture in the Reader's Digest's Wildlife of North America. Notice that it is not a photo. You have to find one in order to take its picture.

The other night it sounded like the bird was on my front porch. I grabbed the flashlight and went in search of the elusive creature. I panned the light across the porch but saw not a feather. Then I heard it in the yard. The flashlight revealed nothing. Each time I pointed the light in one area I heard the bird in another. Do these birds actually exist?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The week following your post, my 79 year-old father passed away. As a child we enjoyed the evening calls of the whipoorwill at our cabin in Wisconsin, but hadn't ever seen the bird. For many years now we hadn't heard the calls at all, and believed the birds to have been forced out by habitat destruction. However, last July, my sister claimed to have heard the bird again and we all (in our grief at Dad's passing) were glad to know at least one had returned. Last night, my brother and I along with our spouses heard the strong calls of two possibly four whipoorwills. Today, Sunday is the second day after a full moon, so I googled the bird to learn more. No doubt you've learned they are nocturnal and their mating cycles a driven by the cycles of the moon with eggs hatching about 10 days before the full moon so they can feed their young more easily. We are convinced our Dad (like the Eastern legend) had his soul taken in by a whipoorwill and he is responsible for the mating pairs that have returned to the woods of our family's vacation cabin. To answer your question, they certainly exist!