Nightjars, also called “Goatsuckers”, are a family of nocturnal birds known for their loud, distinctive calls, and their wild aerial acrobatics. These birds catch insects on the wing using their large mouths fringed in long whiskers that catch and guide insects into their gaping maw. Missouri Nightjars include the Common Nighthawk, the Eastern Whip-poor-will, and the Chuck-will’s-widow. On a summer evening, you might see several Nighthawks taking advantage of clouds of insects swarming around streetlamps. Nighthawks don’t mind cities, and are a common sight around town. Interestingly, these three nightjars don’t bother to build a nest, they just lay their eggs right on the ground! To find Whip-poor-wills and Chuck-will’s-widows, you need to venture out of town. Look for these nightjars in open woodlands. Study the difference in their songs to distinguish the wills from the widows during your evening strolls.
While you should be able to find Common Nighthawks in your town, try these places for the more uncommon Eastern Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow.
1. Rocky Forks Lake Conservation Area. This area is good for both wills and widows. Try the trails off of Mt. Zion Church Rd or Patricia Rd.
2. Scrivner Road Conservation Area. Hike the area access trails winding through the grassland and woodland. They are long, so bring water and wear good shoes.
3. Cuivre River State Park. Try the Big Sugar Creek Wild Area.
4. Perry County Community Lake. The grassland surrounding the lake have yielded more widows than wills, but both can be found here regularly.
5. Drury-Mincy Conservation Area. Try the Hiking Trail on Bear Mtn, or any of the area access trails off of Gunnison Rd.
6. Roaring River State Park. The Fire Tower Trail should yield both wills and widows.