FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO
A bird ID query was recently posted on my FB page by Abaco resident Maria Bethel Flore, who said “I saw a flock of birds I’ve never seen before. All black except for a white stripe underneath the wing. I didn’t get one good picture they were flying so fast”. There were a couple of clues there: a fast-flying flock; and the white underwing bars. Maria’s distant image confirmed the ID as an Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii. These birds have local names such as ‘killakadick’ and ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, or variations on the theme – presumably onomatopoeic.
Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto
I thought a post illustrating these wonderful birds in flight and on the ground would be timely.
The photos above were taken during a trip into deep South Abaco backcountry to the west of the Highway to photograph birds for BIRDS OF ABACO. We reached an open area late in the afternoon to find ourselves in the middle of dozens of nighthawks swooping and diving as they hawked for flies. We leapt out of the truck (we stopped it first) with eager eyes and cameras and watched the performance in amazement. The birds were quite unperturbed by our presence, and from time to time would zoom past within inches of our heads, making a swooshing noise as they did so.
The speed of flight and the jagging paths made it extremely hard to take photos. Photographer Tom Sheley (below) was able to nail them (see top 2 images); I could barely catch a bird in my jiggling viewfinder, but Sandy Walker got a good clear shot (photo 3).
Apart from the exuberant aerial displays such as I have described, nighthawks may also be seen on the ground, where they nest. Their colouring enables them tend to blend in with the surroundings. Woody Bracey took the first 2 pictures; the next is from the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN, which anyone with an interest in birds would enjoy; and the final one was scooped by Susan Daughtrey on a recent visit to Abaco – another very good example of the bird’s camouflage in natural surroundings.
Credits: Tom Sheley, Sandy Walker, RH, Woody Bracey, Birds Caribbean, Susan Daughtrey, Xeno-Canto
I love that first shot – so incredibly aerodynamic!
It was an amazing experience… they seemed to take pleasure in flying as close to our heads as they could, almost as if there was a nighthawk ‘dare’ challenge. We were lucky to have a very experienced bird photographer with us. RH
Wow, RH, I can’t believe how great these photos are! Beautiful back country you’re in too. Thank you so much. 😀
Thanks Jet. This was one time a basic bridge camera (which is what I use) was no use at all – the birds were far too fast and erratic. We stayed for about an hour and we all agreed it was one of our most exciting birding experiences. There were lots of red-winged blackbirds too; and yellowthroats to be pished out of the thickets. I’m not sure I’d ever find this place again except by trial and error. The island is unmapped, except in the most general way. I must check google maps, but they never tell quite the same as you see on the ground…