Recently I received a letter from Charlotte Mengel, of Trout Run, in which she wrote that she enjoyed the article about Queen Ann's lace and also to let me know the reason for the dark floret in the center of the white flower. It seems that the queen pricked her finger while making the lace; hence, the dark floret is a drop of blood.
Then, I received a call from Rick Lines, who at one time lived on Fire Tower Road at the foot of Kellogg Mountain. Rick wanted to know where he could purchase whip-poor-will eggs, which he planned to hatch out and raise for release.
Rick went on to say that he had not heard a whip-poor-will calling since the 1972 flood, which appeared to be the striking blow for the whip-poor-will in his area.
If you can remember back to when your car had a six-volt battery, a dimmer switch on the floor and a clutch pedal to change gears, you probably remember hearing the call of a whip-poor-will.
The whip-poor-will's scientific name is Caprimulgidae vociferous - better known as the nightjar family.
Caprimulgidae comes from two Latin words: "caper," meaning "goat" and "mulgeo," meaning "to milk or suck." This comes from the legend that members of the family sucked milk from goats during the night.
The species name of "vociferous" also is Latin and means either "clamorous or noisy," which is in reference to the loud repeated calls of the bird.
The name of nightjar comes from the loud distinctive calls of the bird. Of course, the bird's common name of whip-poor-will comes from the male's repeated calling.
They are not songbirds. The "whip" is sharp; the "poor" falls away and the "will," which is the highest note in the sequence, is a bullwhip snapping in the night. The call carries about half a mile.
Whip-poor-wills were less common before the cutting of virgin forests; however, by the late 1800s, as the forests were cleared, the population had increased, with birds found across the state.
In 1967, the population of whip-poor-wills began to decline and by 1983-84, the population had reached an all-time low in Pennsylvania. Since that time the population has begun to recover; however, most of the recovery has been in the southcentral part of the state.
Although the reason for the decline is not clear, many believe that the maturing forests of Pennsylvania; a declining food supply as the result of pesticides; and problems in the wintering grounds are all reasons for the decline.
Due to their nocturnal and secretive habits, the species is one of the most difficult to confirm nesting. Calling ceases after the end of the breeding season, and their migration pattern is not well known.
By late April, whip-poor-wills return to Pennsylvania from their wintering grounds in the southern U.S. and Mexico. The males immediately will begin calling to attract females, mostly from dusk until about 9:30 p.m. and from 2 a.m. until dawn. The bird makes about 50 to 100 calls a minute, and the calling goes on for well over an hour.
The whip-poor-will lays its eggs in phase with the lunar cycle, so that the eggs hatch on average 10 days before a full moon.
The female does not build a nest but lays two white-with-blotches-of-gray eggs directly on the ground.
Although incubation is done mostly by the female, a male occasionally is seen sitting on the nest. The incubation period is 19 to 20 days, and the hatching of the young occurs when the moon is waxing (on its way to being full), giving the adults an easier time to forage food (regurgitated insects) for the young.
Unlike most birds that perch crosswise on branches, the whip-poor-wills perch lengthwise. They also spend a good deal of time on the ground, waiting to fly up to feed on moths, mosquitoes, gnats and other insects.
The last whip-poor-will that I heard calling was in the summer of 1968 when I was a student at the state Game Commission's training school, near Brockway. In the evening, a male would sit outside the open bedroom window and call - a perfect sound to hear before falling asleep, especially for a group of men on their way to becoming wildlife officers.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.