Goatsucker , a nocturnal fissirostral bird, of the order passeres or insessores, suborder strisores, and the family caprimulgidoe. The family are characterized by a short, very broad, depressed bill, with an immense gape extending beneath the eyes and rendered larger by numerous bristles for arresting their insect prey; the eyes are very large, and easily dazzled by the full light of day; the tarsi are short and weak, the toes long, the hind toe closely united to the base of the inner; the plumage is soft, enabling them to fly without noise. In the sombre colors and texture of the feathers, in the large head and eyes and nocturnal habits, they resemble the owls, but zoologically they come nearest to the swift family. The name goatsucker is derived from the Latinized Greek appellative caprimulgus, which originated in the idea that they suck the mammae of goats; the French call these birds engoulevents, or wind swallowers, and crapauds volants, or flying toads, probably on account of the great capacity of the mouth.
Like the owls, they hide themselves by day, coming out toward sunset, and pursuing insects on the wing with great rapidity during the twilight; they make no nests, but deposit their eggs on the bare ground or in slight concavities; they are found in all parts of the world, but most abundantly in South America. There are three subfamilies: steatorninoe, or oil birds, found in the West and East Indies, Australia, Africa, and South America; caprimulginoe, alone represented in the United States; and podagerinoe, in Africa and South America. In the first subfamily the genus steatornis (Humboldt) become so plump on the rich palm fruits of Guadeloupe and Trinidad in the breeding season that their fat is compared to that of olive oil, and as such is permitted to be used during Lent. Some species of the genus nyctibius (Vieill.) are as large as a short-eared owl. Among the capri-mulginoe are included the European goatsucker, the North American chuckwill's widow, whip-poor will, and night hawk, and the South American scissors-tailed goatsucker. The European species (caprimulgus Europoeus, Linn.) is as large as a thrush, of a gray brown color, undulated and spotted with blackish brown, with a band of white from the bill to the nape; it nestles in the furze, and lays two eggs.
From the nature of its food and its method of taking it, and its manner of flying, it is often called the square-tailed swallow; it feeds on nocturnal insects like moths and beetles, and migrates during winter into southern Europe and northern Africa. The chuckwiirs widow (antrostomus Carolinensis, Gould) is the largest of the North American species, being about 13 in. long, with an extent of wings of 2G in.; it has very strong bristles at the base of the bill, each with lateral filaments; the wings are long, and the tail slightly rounded; the prevailing color is pale rufous, the top of the head reddish brown with longitudinal black streaks, the last two thirds of the tail feathers (except the four central) rufous white, with the outer webs of all mottled; the female has no white patch on the tail; it is found in the southern Atlantic and gulf states. The popular name of the bird is derived from the sounds which it utters very clearly and strongly six or seven times in quick succession in a melancholy tone; they are seldom heard in cloudy weather, and never, according to Audubon, when it rains. The flight is rapid, graceful, and elevated.
It makes its appearance from the south in the gulf states about the middle of March; no nest is made, but the eggs are laid among the dead leaves; if the eggs be disturbed, the birds remove them in their mouths (according to Audubon, who witnessed the tact), and place them in another locality; they probably remove the young in the same manner. They manifest a great antipathy to all kinds of snakes. They leave the United States about the middle of August. The whippoorwill (A. tociferus, Wils.) and the night hawk (chordeiles Virginianus, Briss.) will be described under their proper titles. The scissors-tailed species (C. furcifer, Vieill.) of Paraguay is remarkable for the length of the outer feathers of the tail, gradually diminishing to the tip. Among the podagerinoe is the Leona goatsucker (macrodipteryx longipennis, Shaw), a native of Africa, having the innermost quill of the wings extremely prolonged and deficient in webs except at the end, and longer than the bird itself. The genus podager (Wagl.) has long wings and short even tail, and short and feathered tarsi; it is found in the warmer parts of South America, frequenting fields and moist places, usually in pairs, but occasionally in large flocks, chasing insects in the full light of day; it lays two eggs on the bare ground.
Most of the goatsuckers have the inner edge of the middle claw pectinated, like a comb, for the purpose of cleansing the bristles of the bill from remains of insects and particles of dirt.
Chuckwill's Widow (Antrostomus Carolinensis).
Leona Goatsucker (Macrodipteryx longipennis).