In third grade my mama and I would sit at the kitchen table and watch all the wild birds go about their day. They often had such unique personalities. If you weren’t paying attention… you would miss experiencing the joy and laughter that they had to offer. One day I came home from school to find a bird book resting on our kitchen table with a pair of binoculars. For several years the book was only removed from the table when we needed space to eat and afterwards, was carefully put back again.
Some afternoons I’d spend hours flipping through the pages of that book while reading about my favorite species of finches. To this day I still have a love affair with owl finches, spice finches, and even the European gold finches that are located throughout parts of Europe. My thirst to learn about birds followed me well into adulthood and was passed down to my son. It was on our little farm that I discovered one of the most unique types of birds I had ever come across. Ten years ago throughout many neighborhoods you could hear the sounds of nightjars at dusk. With countless pesticides being sprayed to reduce the bug population, the number of nightjars has decreased by staggering amounts.
These amazing birds are nearing extinction now to the point where people rarely hear them at all. Their main food source and hunting ground is wooded areas with large open fields. These ground dwelling creatures make nests out of forest leaves and are extremely hard to spot due to their ability to blend into their environment. They look something like a cross between an owl and a frog. They have small heads, round bodies, and very large mouths. They swoop across pastures with their mouths open wide like a butterfly net to capture moths and other flying insects for nourishment.
When we first moved to our little farm we set up a firepit with Nikolai (our son). It allowed us to roast marshmallows and eat charred vegetarian hot dogs smothered in delicious condiments. With the fire blazing and our bellies full, we listened to the sounds of nature all around us. Big bull frogs singing from our creek, tiny tree frogs belting out sounds that should have come from something far larger, and little crickets dancing among the tall grass. There was one sound that we just couldn’t place though.
I took a recording and uploaded the sound to Facebook so we could find someone who possibly knew more. Responses flooded my feed but I was able to rule out most of them. One friend of mine suggested that it sounded like a whippoorwill. I searched for videos on YouTube and compared them to what I heard. It was close but it still didn’t fit the mark. It took some more digging but I finally came across the exact sound that I was looking for. A close cousin to the whippoorwill is an amazing creature called the Chuck Will’s Widow.
The bird’s cry sounds exactly like it’s name suggests. It first makes a chucking sound in it’s throat, then a noise that sounds something like “Will’s-Widow!” It’s incredibly unique and I was positively giddy over my discovery. Now every spring when the weather gets warm… we sit outside together as a family and listen for this special voice that lives on our mountain and hunts in the pastures of our farm.
Our first night after having bought Harlow (our paint horse), I was driving home from Atlanta with Nikolai while marveling over the dusty pink hues that sun made across the sky as it set. Our hands hung out of the open car windows to enjoy the coolness of the evening air on our skin while our vehicle finally skipped down our dirt road bumping it’s way over potholes. Suddenly, a flurry of wings caught my eye and forced me to mash my breaks to the floorboard of my car. I thought I had nearly hit a bat but instead two eyes glistened in the glow of my headlights.
I watched his head swivel and my eyes locked with his. In the span of just a few seconds he lifted from the ground making the most lovely shape with his wings as he flew up and over our car. All Nikolai and I could do was gasp. We knew exactly who he was from the countless hours we spent researching information and browsing photos of what he might look like. We had hoped that we might see him one day but knew since he was so hard to spot, that it may never happen. We happily settled on enjoying the stunning song that he preformed every night instead. Actually having the opportunity to see him however, was a magical moment indeed.
In the years that we lived on our farm, we only heard one Chuck Will’s Widow crying out of the curtain of darkness. However, several weeks after that amazing encounter, we heard not one… but TWO Widows! Clear as day! Singing in unison, two beautiful voices were enjoying the night together. The lone voice coming from our little friend was lonely no longer. We prayerfully made requests that they might make babies together so we could enjoy the fruits of their love for years to come. This spring we hold our breath as we listen for their triumphant return home.