One day years ago in early spring I took a walk with my 10-year-old niece through the forest and pastures surrounding our houses. At one point, we surprised a whippoorwill that was nesting on the ground in the midst of a grove of wild plum trees. Abandoning its lone nestling, the bird flew around us in circles, then landed on a nearby sapling. We could see that it was dragging one wing, trying to make us think it had been injured so that, if we happened to be hungry predators, we would go after the “easy prey” that was the parent rather than the newly hatched, more vulnerable child.
It gave us the opportunity to get a close look at a mysterious neighbor, often heard in the early evenings but seldom seen. About the size of a robin, the bird wore mottled feathers of about a dozen shades of grey, brown and black. Its oversized mouth bordered by whiskers, one could see it was well equipped for night hawking in the forest for moths. It perched on weak, spindly feet on the branch, teetering back and forth in uneasy equilibrium.