Frogmouthed Goatsuckers

29 Jul

This is the original chupacabra.

These are frogmouths, a odd looking group of birds from southeast Asia and Australia. They’re nocturnal fliers and known for their gigantic mouths and extremely deep calls, hums, and booms. The sounds have been described as ‘subsonic’. I’ve have the good fortune to be within a few feet of one at my job and let me tell you, it is a very odd feeling to figure out that a bird is humming.

What I find interesting about them is a nickname that has fallen out of use recently. Is is based on an old myth about their behavior and is, in fact, the origin of their latin order: caprimulgiforms. For those uninformed in latin these birds are known as the goatsuckers.

The myth goes that, as famers shepherded their goats and cattle in for the night from pastures, these birds would swoop down from the nearby woods and attack the animals, leaving them panicked and frightened. However, the birds were not out for blood or meat, instead they would fasten their enormous mouths on the goat’s udders and quickly steal a drink of milk, then fly off, only to have the attack renewed by different individuals.

Of course, this wasn’t actually happening. The birds were, in fact, sweeping up insects disturbed by the moving animals, but the close dives looked a little too close for the farmer’s comfort. However, I’m somewhat charmed at the survival of this myth. Even though we now know that these birds are harmless insectivores, the etymology of their latin name reminds us of an old misconception.

Sources:,, Wikipedia

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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Natural History


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