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Common Poorwill Phalaenoptilus nuttallii


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Common Poorwill
credit: Louis Agassiz Fuertes

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Caprimulgidae, Nightjars view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Has grayish plumage overall, but close inspection reveals subtle and intricate dark lines and bars, and rufous flush to wings and nape that create superb cryptic pattern resembling tree bark. Dark chin and face are separated from blackish chest band by white throat. Note dark crown and white tips to outer tail feathers. ADULT FEMALE Similar, but tips to outer tail feathers are buff. JUVENILE Similar to adult.

Dimensions Length: 7-8 1/2" (18-22 cm)

Habitat Locally fairly common summer visitor (mainly Apr-Sep) to north of range, birds wintering from southern U.S. to Mexico. Breeding birds from south of range are probably mostly resident, or partial altitudinal migrants. Favors a range of dry habitats, but typically rocky ground with scrub and grass cover.

Observation Tips Presence is easiest to detect by listening for song, after dark in spring. Sits tight when roosting and hard to spot in daytime.

Range Texas, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, California, Plains, Western Canada, Northwest

Voice Song, uttered after dark, is a liquid poor-will or poor-weeup.

Discussion Western North America's smallest nightjar. Has a plump body, relatively short, rounded tail and wings, and proportionately large head. Mouth and gape are huge, allowing bird to engulf flying nocturnal insects, such as moths and beetles. In winter, metabolic rate slows down considerably and it enters a torpid state akin to hibernation. Sexes are separable with care.