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Tag: Antillean Nighthawk

Florida, Part 2: Keys to Piney Woods

Florida, Part 2: Keys to Piney Woods

In addition to all the immigrants that I targeted, I spent a good amount of time on some of the native species of Florida as well.  My target list here was much more refined, mostly hard to record species and rare vocalizations, and so my success rate was a bit lower.  But by the time my trip was over I still managed to get a nice collection of cool recordings, with a nice smattering of rare ones thrown in:

Mottled Duck is a surprisingly rarely recorded species.  Maybe that’s because it’s just a glorified Mallard – or maybe the opposite of glorified, being less colorful.  Or maybe it’s because it can be hard to find pure birds anymore in places most people bird.  Whatever the case, it was a major goal of mine to get some recordings from them, and I did from both hybrids and apparently pure birds:

Mottled Duck, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, copyright Andrew Spencer

It wasn’t all that long ago that I didn’t even know that Bachman’s Sparrow had a flight song.  As soon as I heard about it I had to go record it!  And it took a little effort, but eventually I found a pair of birds with an older juvenile late one evening that made all sorts of cool sounds, including the “flight” song a few times (but always while perched).  I also recorded a variety of calls from them, and their beautiful primary song.

Bachman's Sparrow, Three Lakes WMA, copyright Andrew Spencer

Not surprisingly, a number of the bird I was looking for were found on the Florida Keys.  High among these were White-crowned Pigeon and Black-whiskered Vireo (especially calls of both, which are rarely recorded), but I also recorded a few other fun species such as Antillean Nighthawk and Gray Kingbird.

Not really on the target list, but still a very cool (and unique) bird, I was able to get some good cuts of Limpkin near Miami while I was looking for Swamphens.  I was most surprised to learn that they actually make a very distinct winnowing sound while flying in an apparent display flight, and was very pleased to get a recording of it.

Limpkin, Pembroke Pines, copyright Andrew Spencer

One of the major highlights of my trip was recording in the Everglades.  I’ll admit, I got very few recordings there, BUT I did get one of my most wanted – Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow.  And in addition to getting good recs I had spectacular views as well, a rarity for this endangered subspecies.

"Cape Sable" Seaside Sparrow, Everglades National Park, copyright Andrew Spencer

A Hybrid Nighthawk?

A Hybrid Nighthawk?

While going through the Macaulay Library’s collection of Common Nighthawk vocalizations, I came upon something strange: a recording of what might be a hybrid Common x Antillean Nighthawk from south Florida.

Here’s some background.  In the early sixties, Charles A. Sutherland studied the breeding biology of nighthawks on Key Largo, Florida.  He made observations and audio recordings of both taxa breeding there: Chordeiles minor chapmani and the very different-sounding C. m. vicinus, which was not yet recognized as belonging to a separate species (and wouldn’t be until the early eighties, when the AOU would cite vocal differences and sympatric breeding in creating Chordeiles gundlachii, the Antillean Nighthawk).

Common Nighthawk, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, 6/10/2008. Photo by Jerry Oldenettel (Creative Commons 2.0).
Common Nighthawk, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, 6/10/2008. Photo by Jerry Oldenettel (Creative Commons 2.0).

Sutherland wrote up his findings in a 1963 article in Living Bird that remains perhaps the best source published to date on Common Nighthawk vocalizations.  Unfortunately, he excluded the Antillean birds from his discussion.  On the other hand, he did donate his recordings to Cornell, and now they can be heard online at the Macaulay Library’s website.

Sutherland’s recordings are noteworthy on many levels.  For one thing, since he was in the area of sympatry, they often capture the calls of both nighthawk species at once.  For another, Sutherland managed to record many rarely-heard vocalizations, such as begging calls of nestling Common Nighthawks, distraction displays by a female Antillean, and the “pik pik pik” notes given by Commons in aerial chases.

In the vocal notes on his recordings, Sutherland often referred to the Antillean Nighthawks as the “pi-ti-mi-dick” birds, after the distinctive rhythm of their calls.  There is one individual, however, that he refers to as “the improper pit-i-mi-dick bird,” apparently because the thought its call didn’t sound quite right for an Antillean Nighthawk.  You can hear this bird on Macaulay Library cut 5904.  It used to be classified as a Common Nighthawk, but as of this writing Macaulay’s got it labeled as an Antillean, and it’s certainly a confusing bird.  Here are a couple of spectrograms:




To listen to the bird, click here.

Note that the bird gives a mix of short “pik” notes (the vertical lines on the spectrogram) and Common Nighthawk-like “peent” notes (the thicker blotches).  By themselves, both of these elements suggest Common Nighthawk, as that species gives both calls.  However, what seems odd is that the “piks” and the “peents” usually seem to merge into one, “pik pik pikpeent,” so that the typical rhythm ends up echoing that of the stereotypical chicken vocalization: “buk buk bukKAW.”  By going through every recording labeled “Common Nighthawk,” I located nine cuts that included the “pik” call [1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9], usually alongside the “peent,” but none of them contain anything like this combination rhythm.

Here’s a typical Antillean Nighthawk call for comparison.  It’s giving a relatively stereotyped “pit-i-mi-dick” of 2-6 notes in slightly decelerating series, the first element slightly longer than the others:

Typical Antillean Nighthawk call, Key Largo, Florida, 6/8/1962. Recording by Charles Sutherland. Macaulay Library #5903.
Typical Antillean Nighthawk call, Key Largo, Florida, 6/8/1962. Recording by Charles Sutherland. Macaulay Library #5903.

(click here to hear the bird)

As far as I know, Antillean Nighthawks do not give long series of individual “pik” notes like Common Nighthawks do, but I’d be interested to hear from anyone whose experience suggests otherwise.

As you can see, the “improper pit-i-mi-dick” bird is quite different from an Antillean.  It may simply be a Common Nighthawk who is stumbling repeatedly over his words.  But it sounds suspiciously odd to me, and given that it comes from the area of sympatry, a hybrid seems quite plausible.  Interestingly, Sutherland mentions in his vocal notes that the call of this individual is not accompanied by the rapid flutter of wings that usually accompanies the primary call in both Common and Antillean Nighthawks.  Who knows what significance that fact may have?