Peents and Booms

photo of Common Nighthawk © Brian SmallI love listening to nightjars of all types, their strange calls being among my favorite voices of the night. Who is not moved by the musical whistles of Whip-poor-wills, Chuck-will’s-widows, and Poorwills, the buzzy peents of Common Nighthawks, the toadlike trills of Lesser Nighthawks, and the nasal purr-weers of Common Parauques?

One of my all-time favorite nightjar recordings is one made by my friend Ted Mack. The date was May 17, 2006. Ted and I drove to a remote area in the Adirondacks, arriving at our destination at 4:30am. As soon as we got out of car, we heard a Common Nighthawk giving nasal peent calls and periodically diving and booming as Green Frogs and Spring Peepers sounded off from a nearby pond. Ted fumbled with his gear in the parking lot while I sprinted down the road in order to get under the calling bird. But as soon as I turned on my recorder, the bird shifted its activity to Ted’s position, and Ted raked in the gold:

Common Nighthawk peents and booms, 4:30am, 17 May 2006, Adirondack Mountains near Paul Smiths, NY. Recording by Ted Mack.

peents. Did I do okay? Does it sound good to you?


  1. you did a terrific job. I was trying to explain how loud these booms are, other recordings were not this close. I too had these birds ‘booming’ just over my head- very close , here recently on Mt.St.Helens. It was dark, we could hear them peenting then quiet for a moment then “BOOM” a foot above our heads. Could even feel the wind from their wings, scared me so bad I laughed . They did it time and again. Do you think bugs were hanging around us or they were doing this on purpose? Anyway, thank you for the BEST recording I have found! Melissa

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as is!
    Thanks for making this amazing recording. You captured the sounds well and it’s wonderful!

  3. Lang,

    This is a beautiful recording. I could just lie back and it would take me to a different place. The sounds are so different and truely wild. The hiss didn’t bother my ears at all.

  4. Hi Lang, it’ been a lot of years since I’ve seen you. When are we going to get Ted Mack on Facebook. Many people are looking for him!! It’s so great to hear your recordings, many of these sounds are alien here in CA, but are in turn taken up by elephant seals and Stellar Sea Lions.

    The very best to you.

    Karen Smith
    I shared an office in the library with Ted at Paul Smith’s for 15 years.

  5. I used to hear Nighthawks regularly over urban and inner-ring suburban skies in the Cleveland area – but sadly, they are much less common now. I did not know that they could make that fabulous booming sound though! Thanks for posting this!

  6. As one who has never heard nighjars at large, I would have guessed the ‘peents’ were some mega-insect wing rasps, and the ‘booms’ from a frog I hoped I never met alone in the dark! The percussion section often confounds me, but it’s great fun to get lost in, more so to explore with the guidance of your narrative.

    • Sharon: For those who are familiar with the nighthawk’s sounds, I think it’s important to back off and listen with naive ears, and let the mind respond accordingly. Otherwise you’ll entirely miss the mega-insects and the booming frogs.

      Hare Baba Dalai Ganouj once proclaimed:

      “In the beginning there was only Sound. Sound-making objects were then invented as an afterthought, as a way to bring form to sounds and satisfy the inquiring mind.”

  7. For years, I have collected nature sound recordings from around my home with just a cassette recorder (yeah, I’m sure Lang and any other recordists will get a good laugh at that,) so to me that hiss is barely noticeable. If toning it down more would risk losing that spacious quality, I wouldn’t risk it. Just a quick question: Does anyone have a recommendation for a satisfactory, reasonably-priced nature recorder or whatever equipment you need?

  8. Growing up listening to cassette tapes, I wouldn’t have noticed the hiss if you hadn’t mentioned it. The booms are different on tape. CONIs nest on top of our apartment building, and they boom through the alley right next to our windows. It is fun to hear them!

  9. 🙂 the ‘ol hiss-meister here. What a heck of a neat recording. There is some hiss that you could probably bring down a fuzz. However, it isn’t bad at all. Ted certainly has the luck. This is amazing.

  10. This is fantastic, Lang! There’s still a little of the hiss in there, but it’s not distracting. The whole recording has a very eerie sense to it, what with the reverberations of the frog chorus and all. Congrats to your friend Ted for this great capture!

    • Glad you like it! I’m no sure if I should pull down the hiss some more. That would run the risk of making the echos of the peents sound strange. I’ll see what Wil Hirshberger thinks. He’s particularly sensitive to hiss.

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