By Alisha Brewer
It is here. A fresh start. A new beginning. The opening of a new year. Welcome 2022!
The craziest thing happened to me the other day- I saw a picture of an animal that I could not identify. The Tucson Wildlife Center shared a picture captioned “patient of the week”, and there he was. It took a moment for my eyes to figure out exactly what I was looking at. My interest in animals goes back as long as I can remember. I have spent my entire life (and a big part of my career) working with, learning about and being awed by the ones that we share this world with. So to find myself staring at a creature that I had never seen before was unusual and exciting. I was in disbelief when I learned that this little guy is a common resident of Vail!
To those who have never had the pleasure, I’d like to introduce you to the Poorwill! He looks like he’s straight out of a Disney movie with a head that seems way too big for his small body. Cute is an understatement. He kind of resembles a miniature version of an owl, but he is actually part of the nightjar family (which is a group of nocturnal birds). This explains why our Poorwills have such large eyes- it helps them see in low light conditions.
I learned that Poorwills like to live in large open areas with lots of short shrubs and grasses. These birds prefer life on the ground. Their coloration of greys and browns help them melt away into their surroundings, we’re talking some serious camouflage. It’s no wonder that these small, 2 oz birds are rarely seen.
These little guys love to eat! Insects are what they are after (I’m sure they’ve had a field day this year with our massive numbers of creepy crawlies). Strangely enough, they like to hunt from the ground! When evening falls, they open those big eyes and look up. They’re after moths, grasshoppers and beetles that are passing by. Once spotted, they will flutter up and snatch their prey.
Long ago, Hopi Native Americans named this bird “the sleeping one” and quite fittingly so. Poorwills are the only birds known to enter a state of hibernation called torpor! With cold temperatures, resources can drop significantly. Poorwills solve this problem by essentially sleeping through long chunks of the winter. They’re able to slow down their metabolic rate, drop their body temperature (as low as 41 degrees) and decrease their heart rate (as much as 90%). They can survive in this sleeping state for weeks (even months) at a time. How incredible is that?! The world’s only known hibernating bird lives right here in Vail!
By treating this particular Poorwill’s subcutaneous emphysema, The Tucson Wildlife Center gave him a second chance at life. He was recently released back into the wild, so his journey continues. He, just like all of us, gets to start the new year with endless possibilities.
Whatever you are hoping and striving for this year, I hope it comes to fruition. But, before you forge into the new year take a moment to plug this into your phone or stick it on your fridge…
Tucson Wildlife Center
13275 E. Speedway
While you’re out there getting what you’re getting, you never know what may cross your path. Should by chance you encounter some wildlife that could use a helping hand, you have a place that you can turn to and they’re open seven days a week. Alright, no time for sleeping, go out there and make this year the best one yet. Happy New Year everyone!
Alisha Brewer is a veteran zoo keeper of nearly 15 years. U of A alum. Boy mom, veggie dog connoisseur, anti Oxford comma and eternal optimist. Alisha hopes to connect residents to the incredible creatures that surround us.