For years I’ve heard this strange, haunting animal sound at night in the forest surrounding my house. I was pretty sure it was a bird, but tracking down the species from its sound is much harder than flipping through the illustrations in a field guide. After listening to this sound more carefully all summer, I finally decided to take a shot at solving the mystery.
I thought about what birds are busy at night hunting for food, mating or both. The knocking and hollow, loud “kowp” sound I was hearing didn’t belong to any of our native owls. Nor did it sound like a member of the goatsucker family, which includes whip-poor-wills and nighthawks. So what was left?
When I don’t know where to start with identifying a bird, I often do what I did in this occasion — open one of my bird apps and scroll through the taxonomic orders, hoping a species name will click. In this case, I started with my Sibley Birds app. As I scrolled through the orders, I came to Cuculiformes, the cuckoos, roadrunners and anis.