By Russell A. Graves
Cruising down a crunchy backroad just after sunrise, the dust from my tires drifts high in the air behind me. The wind is still and after a long, protracted span with little rain, the land is dry. Even at 8:30 a.m., the air is already stifling, and it’s going to be a hot day.
Up ahead, I see a familiar sight: sitting still atop a ragged and weathered cedar post is a nighthawk. Trying his best to stay camouflaged, the bird sits quietly atop the post. Its stippled coloration of blacks, grays and browns helps it blend into the post. If I weren’t specifically looking for this species of birds, I may have never seen it. It is one of those unique species that lives amongst us, but probably few ever notice it. I ease up next to it in my truck, kill the engine and proceed to press the button that brings my camera to life. A couple of dozen pictures later, I leave the bird behind and begin looking for more as summertime in Childress County is nighthawk season.
Beautiful yet mysterious, the nighthawk comes out to feed in the evenings and roosts during the day. Therefore, if you don’t know what you are looking for, you might just miss them even though they live amongst most all Texans. Scientifically speaking, the nighthawk isn’t really a hawk, but it belongs to a family of birds called nightjars. Nightjars are characterized by long, pointed wings, short legs and short bills. In Texas, species such as whip-poor-wills, poorwills, pauraque, and the common and lesser nighthawks are all part of the nightjar family. Also called goatsuckers, this family of birds was once thought to feed off the milk of goats.
While the nighthawk is a common bird, they are sometimes hard to find. Even though the common nighthawk is found over all of Texas and most of North America and the lesser nighthawk is found in southern Texas, they are still hard to casually observe. They are secretive, extremely well camouflaged and are mostly active at dusk and during the overnight hours.
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