- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) a small nocturnal bird with a wide mouth and distinctive churring call
The most popular fact on HH this week concerned Eurostopodus diabolicus, an otherwise unassuming bird native to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi that thanks to a bit of macabre folklore has become better known as the “satanic nightjar”:
No, Eurostopodus diabolicus does not feast on the eyes of sleeping people. Nor for that matter do nightjars of any kind drink blood from goats’ udders—the bizarre myth that lies behind the birds’ other familiar nickname, goatsucker.
Instead, nightjars just keep themselves to themselves: they’re notoriously hard to spot (thanks to their nocturnal lifestyle and impeccable camouflage), and eat nothing more exciting than moths and other flying insects.
The “jar” of nightjar, incidentally, is the same jar we use to refer to clashing, banging or “jarring” sounds or impacts. Nightjars have a bizarre, vibrating call more like a frog’s croak than a bird’s song; it’s a sound that’s the origin not only of the name nightjar itself, but also a number of alternative dialect names like churn-owl, eve-churr, screech-hawk, and—because it is supposed to sound like a whirring bit of machinery—wheel bird, spinner, scissor-grinder, and razor-grinder.
But there’s no eye-gouging in sight.