When the Whippoorwhills Call by John Parris
There’s an old mountain saying that when the first whippoorwill calls it’s time for the corn to be in the ground.
Bert Hensley, a mountain man with a sharp eye and a keen ear for nature’s signs, heard his first whippoorwill of the year a couple nights back.
“When I heard it start to calling out there in the dark, and me sitting here by the fire,” he said, “I told myself, “you’d better get your corn in the ground’.”
So, yesterday, after a tardy sun had burned off the frost of a dogwood winter’s day, he hitched up his mule to the old plow and took to his new-turned ground to set his rows for his seed corn.
“My daddy and my granddaddy always said when the first whippoorwill calls, it’s time for the corn to be in the ground,” he recalled. “Most times my corn’s in the ground when I hear the first whippoorwill. But this year, I sort of held back, what with all the uncertain weather . . . “Speaking of whippoorwills,” he said, “some folks don’t like to hear ’em in the night. Say their call is monotonous. But I like to hear ’em. To me they make a pretty whistling.”
“Back when I was coming on, some folks said when the first whippoorwills of spring was heard you ought to get out and turn head over heels three times. They said it would keep you from having the backache during the year.”
“And there was another saying that when you hear the first whippoorwill of the year, you should walk three steps back, pick up whatever is under your heel, spit on it, and make a wish.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time listening to whippoorwills and observing their habits. A whippoorwill’s about 10 inches long. It has a small bill but a big head. And it’s got big eyes, tiny feet, and very long wings.”
“During the daytime the whippoorwill sleeps on the ground where its color blends in with the dead leaves. At night it feeds by waiting for insects from some perch or pursuing them swallow like and snapping them up in its huge maw.”
“The whippoorwill don’t make a nest like other birds. It lays only two eggs and they’re plain white or lightly spotted. It lays them on the ground among the leaves where they stand right out where you can see them if the bird leaves them.”
“The whippoorwill rolls them about until they hatch. I’ve seen the eggs over at the edge of the field in the morning and then over at the other edge late in the afternoon . . .”The whippoorwill’s loud, three-syllable whistled call is heard in the darkness more often than the bird is seen. As a matter of fact, you hardly ever see a whippoorwill.”
I hope you enjoyed the piece by John Parris. As you can tell, I’m still studying on whippoorwills.