Thursday, December 29, 2011

What's a "goatsucker?"

The term "goatsucker" often elicits snickers and snide comments from those unfamiliar with it, but it simply refers to birds in the Caprimulgidae family, including Common Nighthawks. I studied urban nighthawks' nest-sites while in graduate school at the University of Northern Iowa (and I will publish that study one of these years!).

The birds apparently were given that name based on their buccal anatomy - they have large mouths with very little bill (beak) - great for scooping up insects while in flight.
Aristotle may have coined the term "goatsucker"  in 350 B.C.E.:

"The so­called goat­sucker lives on mountains; it is a little larger than the owsel, and less than the cuckoo; it lays two eggs, or three at the most, and is of a sluggish 
disposition. It flies up to the she­goat and sucks its milk, from which habit it derives its name; it is said that, after it has sucked the teat of the animal, the teat dries up 
and the animal goes blind. It is dim­sighted in the day­time, but sees well enough by night."
(Aristotle, & Thompson, D. (n.d). History of Animals. Generic NL Freebook Publisher.)

1 comment:

  1. I have to say this headline gave me pause-and a few snickers-which then earned me a slap in the arm from a fellow co-worker. After reading your blog on these amazing birds I have now been enlightened-and for that I thank you!