Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 23 – Nighthawk + Whip-poor-will


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 23 – Some Big Mouths


Boom!!! Peter Rabbit jumped. It was all so sudden and unexpected that Peter jumped before he had time to think. He had been scared when there was nothing to be afraid of.

“What are you jumping for, Peter?” tittered Jenny Wren. “That was only Boomer the Nighthawk.”

“You know being suddenly startled is apt to make people jump,” Peter answered. “If I had seen him anywhere about he wouldn’t have made me jump. It was the unexpectedness of it. I don’t see what he is out now for, anyway. It isn’t even dusk yet, and I thought him a night bird.”

“So he is,” agreed Jenny Wren. “Anyway, he is a bird of the evening, and that amounts to the same thing. Just because he likes the evening best isn’t any reason why he shouldn’t come out in the daylight.”

“I see Boomer late in the afternoon nearly every day. On cloudy days I often see him early in the afternoon. He’s an odd fellow. Such a mouth he has! I suppose it is very handy to have a big mouth if one must catch all one’s food in the air,” declared Jenny Wren.

“I’ve never noticed that Boomer has a particularly big mouth,” noted Peter.

“He’s got a little bit of a bill and a great big mouth to go with it. I don’t see what folks call him a hawk for when he isn’t a hawk at all,” Jenny remarked.

“I believe you told me the other day that Boomer is related to Sooty the Chimney Swift,” said Peter.

Jenny nodded vigorously. “So I did, Peter,” she replied. “Boomer and Sooty are sort of second cousins. There is Boomer now, way up in the sky. I do wish he’d dive and scare someone else.”

Peter tipped his head way back. High up in the blue, blue sky was a bird which at that distance looked something like a much overgrown Swallow. He was circling and darting about this way and that. Even while Peter watched he half closed his wings and shot down with such speed that Peter actually held his breath. It looked very, very much as if Boomer would dash himself to pieces. Just before he reached the earth he suddenly opened those wings and turned upward. At the instant he turned, the booming sound which had so startled Peter was heard. It was made by the rushing of the wind through the larger feathers of his wings as he checked himself.

In this dive Boomer had come near enough for Peter to get a good look at him. His coat seemed to be a mixture of brown and gray, very soft looking. His wings were brown with a patch of white on each. There was a white patch on his throat and a band of white near the end of his tail.


Nighthawk by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


“Do you happen to know what kind of a nest the Nighthawks build, Jenny?” asked Peter.

“They don’t build any,” answered Jenny Wren.

“If there isn’t any nest where does Mrs. Boomer lay her eggs?” Peter inquired. “They must have some kind of a nest.”

“Mrs. Nighthawk only lays two eggs,” said Jenny. “Perhaps she thinks it isn’t worthwhile building a nest for just two eggs. Anyway, she lays them on the ground or on a flat rock and lets it go at that. She isn’t quite like Sally the Cowbird, for she does sit on those eggs and tend to them mother. Did you ever see Boomer in a tree?”

Peter shook his head. “I’ve seen him on the ground,” he said. “Never have I seen him in a tree. Why do you ask, Jenny?”

“I just wanted to see if you had noticed anything peculiar about the way he sits in a tree,” observed Jenny. “He sits lengthwise of a branch. He never sits across it as the rest of us do.”

“How funny!” exclaimed Peter. “I suppose that is Boomer making that odd noise we hear.”

“Yes,” replied Jenny. “He certainly does like to use his voice. They tell me that some folks call him Bullbat, though why they should call him either bat or hawk is beyond me. I suppose you know his cousin, Whip-poor-will.”

“I should say I do,” replied Peter. “There isn’t a person of my acquaintance who can say a thing over and over so many times without stopping for breath. Do I understand that he is cousin to Boomer?”

“He is a sort of second cousin, the same as Sooty the Chimney Swift,” explained Jenny Wren. “They look enough alike to be own cousins. Whip-poor-will has just the same kind of a big mouth and he is dressed very much like Boomer, save that there are no white patches on his wings.”

“I’ve noticed that,” said Peter. “That is one way I can tell them apart.”

“I wonder if you also noticed Whip-poor-will’s whiskers,” Jenny inquired.

“Whiskers!” cried Peter. “Who ever heard of a bird having whiskers?”

“Whip-poor-will finds whiskers to be just as useful as you find yours, and a little more so,” Jenny stated confidently. “I know this much, that if I had to catch all my food in the air I’d want whiskers and lots of them so that the insects would get tangled in them. I suppose that’s what Whip-poor-will’s are for.”

“By the way, do the Whip-poor-wills do any better in the matter of a nest than the Nighthawks?” Peter asked.

“Not a bit,” replied Jenny Wren. “Mrs. Whip-poor-will lays her eggs right on the ground, and usually in the Green Forest where it is dark. Like Mrs. Nighthawk, she lays only two. It’s the same way with another second cousin, Chuck-will’s-widow.”

“Who? I’ve never heard of such a bird,” Peter said while wrinkling his brow.

“I know Chuck-will’s-widow from being down South,” Jenny stated with confidence. “He looks a whole lot like the other two we’ve been talking about, and has an even bigger mouth. What’s more, funny and yet true, he has whiskers with branches. In his habits he’s just like his cousins, no nest and only two eggs. Now I must get back to my nest, goodbye Peter.”


P.L.A.Y. in Place Projects


Try these activities to extend your bird story adventures:

  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Common Nighthawk
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Eastern Whip-poor-will
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – BIRD ACADEMY – impressive aerial display – Nighthawk video
  • Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and some colored pencils to complete the drawing of a Common Nighthawk (p30).

  • Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Whip-poor-will on page 45.

FYI -These coloring books are an excellent companion for this bird story series.


Source: Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton Burgess

P.L.A.Y. has provided a new online version of all 45 chapters of this updated and annotated 100+ year old public domain classic to:

  • be suitable for the 21st century family by having the Thornton Burgess woodland characters evolve to model mindfulness and loving kindness
  • highlight and bring awareness to the New England nature settings and offer an opportunity to learn more about birds and other woodland animals through this story adventure
  • create story extension moments through P.L.A.Y. suggested activities and investigations for making new nature connections generated by the reader’s own curiosity
  • encourage families to keep their own nature notebooks for drawing, writing, painting, and recording their own local daily outdoor P.L.A.Y. adventures.

P.L.A.Y. Time – Pass it on!