Chuck-Will's-Widow

While making one last visit to the seawall this evening, I heard the distinctive call of a chuck-will's-widow echoing from a mangrove island in Sarasota Bay.  Often heard on Longboat Key during the summer months, these nocturnal birds feed on flying insects, snaring them in their large, gaping mouth; on occasion, they also grab small songbirds and bats.

Largest of the North American nightjars, chuck-will's-widows (named for their call), breed throughout the Southeastern U.S. and are permanent residents in southernmost Florida.  Nests are placed directly on the ground, usually in open woodlands of oak or pine.  Not often observed unless accidentally flushed, they strafe the treetops at dawn and dusk and may be caught in your headlights along country roads; on the other hand, these hunters are frequently heard on summer nights, delivering their endless, repetitive call.

Come autumn, most chuck will's widows head for the Caribbean, Central America or northern South America.  There they become less territorial, gathering in tropical forests or wooded marshlands for the winter.