I recently got a tip about an active Chuck-will’s-widow nest, and simply couldn’t miss the opportunity to see it. So, following two days along Ohio’s north coast – Lake Erie – I then drove to the other end of the state to go chucking.
Mucho gracias to Mark Zloba and Chris Bedel of the Cincinnati Museum for clueing me in to the chuck nest. Seeing it was a fantastic opportunity, but I must keep the exact locale a secret other than to say it was in the sprawling 14,000-acre Edge of Appalachia preserve in Adams County.
An Adams County barrens prairie. These habitats harbor tremendous diversity of flora and fauna, including many endangered species. The breeding birds are spectacular, too. From this spot, I could hear Blue Grosbeak, Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and many others. Come here at night and you’ll hear the loud incessant onomatopoeic song of our target: chuck-will’s-widow, chuck-will’s-widow! The nest was along the margins of a barrens opening like this one, slightly back into the woods.
We do know that chucks generally lay two eggs, and incubate for about 20 days. The chucklets open their eyes the first day out, and can run around a bit the second day. They are capable of at least short flights by their 17th day, and sometime in late summer or fall slip away to the tropical wintering grounds, where nearly nothing is known of their habits. Interestingly, limited data suggests that adults winter primarily in the Caribbean, while first-year birds winter in Central and South America.
Dietary preference #2 is moths. I’ve driven down Adams County back roads in the vicinity of this nest on warm summer nights, and there are virtual blizzards of moths. Chuck food abounds here, and this is no doubt one reason why the only dependable breeding locale in Ohio for this species is the Ohio Brush Creek Valley of Adams County. They were first found here in 1932.
After the predictable insect fare, the chuck’s chuck wagon gets a bit weirder. In times of desperation, apparently, they are known to capture small tree frogs and other amphibians. And seemingly whenever the opportunity presents itself, they will grab and swallow small birds, and even bats! Some of the documented species of songbirds that got vacuumed up by Chuck-will’s-widows include Palm, Hooded, Worm-eating, Yellow, and Cape May warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Swamp Sparrow, Carolina Wren, and Cuban Emerald (in the Caribbean, presumably).
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