10 Facts about the Common Poorwill – Coolest Bird of the week
Day 6 of 100 Days of Blogging
Today we feature the Common Poorwill as the subject of the first of our Coolest Bird of the Week feature. Once a week on our countdown, as we make our way to January 4th 2017, we’ll highlight a bird with some sort of unusual characteristic. Today’s bird really is the coolest bird of the week – It is the only bird known to go into extended torpor, or if you prefer, hibernation.
#1 Famaily Ties
The Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) is the smallest member of the Caprimulgidae family, the Nightjars.
#2. Just the Stats Ma’am
Length: 18 centimetres (7.1 in) Wingspan: approx. 30 centimetres (12 in). Weight: 36–58 grams (1.3–2.0 oz).
Appearance: sexes similar with gray and black patterned above, white outer tail-feathers, male has slightly more prominent markings.
#3. Bird of the Night
The Common Poorwill is nocturnal and more likely to found at night by its call or seen by its glowing eyes. The name Nightjar is derived from the loud distinctive cries of this family of birds. Call is a loud “poor-will.”
#4. Population and Distribution
There are 56 species of Nightjars worldwide, of which only 6 occur in North America. The Poorwill ranges from British Columbia and southeastern Alberta, through the western United States to northern Mexico.
#5. Diet and Habitat
Like other members of this family, it feeds on nocturnal insects such as moths, beetles, and grasshoppers. It prefers dry open areas with grasses or shrubs. However, It can also be found on stony desert slopes with very little vegetation.
#6. Don’t mind me, I’m just going to take a little nap
While many northern birds migrate in the winter, the Common Poorwill in the southern part of the specie’s range is the only bird known to go into hibernation. While many birds go into a state of torpor overnight (for example hummingbirds) the Poorwill does so for an extended period of several months. (Torpor is defined as a state of decreased physiological activity in an animal, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate).
#7. Definitely the coolest bird!
At the beginning of the winter, the Poorwill chooses a rock crevice and settles down for a nice winter’s nap. Its heart and respiration rates are said to drop to almost undetectable levels and its Its body temperature falls from about 41º C (106º F) to a low of 6º (43º F). It is believed it enters this state of torpor when the insect population it requires for food also slows down.
#8. Note to self…
The extended torpor state of the Poorwill was first officially noted by scientists in 1946. However, although its significance was not realized at the time, in 1804 Meriwether Lewis noted in his diary observations of hibernating Common Poorwills in North Dakota during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
#9. We told you so!
Native American Hopi obviously noted the Poorwill’s ability to hibernate much earlier though. Their name for the bird is hölchko, which means “The sleeping One.”
#10 You wake him up!
No reports as to whether or not the Common Poorwill is grumpy when he wakes up, but scientists have been able to place the bird into torpor while in the laboratory by removing its source of food. Once it is awake, it takes about seven hours to fully warm up.