Chuck-will's-widowAntrostomus carolinensis

adult
Herbert Clarke/VIREO
adult
Herbert Clarke/VIREO
adult
Dr. Michael Stubblefield/VIREO
adult
Rob & Ann Simpson/VIREO

Family

Description

The rich, throaty chant of the Chuck-will's-widow, singing its name, echoes through southern woodlands on summer nights. By day, the bird is seldom detected as it rests on horizontal tree limbs or on the ground, where its cryptic dead-leaf pattern offers good camouflage. If disturbed, it flaps away on silent wings, sometimes giving low clucking calls in protest.

Habitat

Oak and pine woodlands. Breeds in shady southern woodlands of various types, including open pine forest, oak woodlands, edges of swamps. Winter habitats include subtropical woods and lowland rain forest in the tropics.

Feeding Diet

Mostly large insects. Feeds on large night-flying insects, especially beetles and moths, also many others. Also occasionally takes small birds, including warblers, sparrows, and hummingbirds.

Feeding Behavior

Forages at night, perhaps most actively at dusk and dawn and on moonlit nights. Forages by flying out from a perch high in a tree or from the ground to catch flying insects; also forages in continuous flight along the edges of woods. Captures food in its wide, gaping mouth; insects and small birds are swallowed whole.

Nesting

In courtship during daytime, male struts or sidles up to female with his body plumage puffed up, wings drooping, and tail spread; moves with jerky actions, and calls. Nest site is on ground, in rather open area within shady understory of forest. Same site may be used more than one year. No nest built, eggs laid on flat ground on leaves or pine needles. Eggs: 2. Creamy white, usually blotches with brown and gray. Incubation is probably by female only, about 3 weeks. If the nest is disturbed, the adult may move the eggs some distance away. Young: Apparently cared for by female alone. Female broods young and shelters them during the day; feeds them by regurgitating insects. Age of young at first flight 17 days or more.

Eggs

2. Creamy white, usually blotches with brown and gray. Incubation is probably by female only, about 3 weeks. If the nest is disturbed, the adult may move the eggs some distance away. Young: Apparently cared for by female alone. Female broods young and shelters them during the day; feeds them by regurgitating insects. Age of young at first flight 17 days or more.

Young

Apparently cared for by female alone. Female broods young and shelters them during the day; feeds them by regurgitating insects. Age of young at first flight 17 days or more.

Conservation

Thought to be declining in parts of its range, possibly because of loss of habitat.

Range

Some spend the winter in Florida but most migrate well south, wintering in the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.

Listen

song
wing claps and croaks
aug-aug-aug calls
various croaks

Similar Species

adult

Buff-collared Nightjar

Birders hearing it for the first time may have trouble believing that the Buff-collared Nightjar is a relative of the Whip-poor-will. Staccato, unbirdlike, the call sounds like the voice of an insect: a very large insect, perhaps, audible up to half a mile away over the dry hills at night. First found north of the Mexican border in 1958, this bird now spends the summer in several canyons in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

adult

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Often heard but seldom observed, the Whip-poor-will chants its name on summer nights in eastern woods. The song may seem to go on endlessly; a patient observer once counted 1,088 whip-poor-wills given rapidly without a break. By day, the bird sleeps on the forest floor, or on a horizontal log or branch. This bird and the Mexican Whip-poor-will of the southwest were considered to belong to the same species until recently.

adult male

Lesser Nighthawk

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adult male

Antillean Nighthawk

A common nesting bird on islands of the Caribbean, this nighthawk enters our area only in southern Florida. When it was first discovered there in 1941 it was considered to be only a subspecies of the Common Nighthawk, as it looks very similar; however, its voice is different. Where Antillean and Common nighthawks meet on the Florida Keys, they appear to compete and to defend territories against each other.

adult male Western

Common Nighthawk

This widespread and familiar bird may hunt by day or night, catching flying insects in the air. Its bounding, erratic flight and angular wings make it unmistakable except in the southwest and in Florida, where two other types of nighthawks occur. Originally nesting on open ground, Common Nighthawks have learned to nest on flat gravel roofs; their nasal cries and

adult (gray morph) more common in US

Common Pauraque

After sunset, in the brushy woods of southern Texas, a hoarse wheezing whistle is heard from here and there in the undergrowth. As dusk settles in, a silhouetted bird flutters and glides silently through the clearings. This is the Pauraque, a common tropical nightjar. If disturbed by day at its resting place in dense thickets, it flutters away on a zigzag course, showing white flashes in the wings and tail.

adult male dark morph

Common Poorwill

In dry hills of the west, a soft whistled poor-will carries across the slopes on moonlit nights. Drivers may spot the Poorwill itself sitting on a dirt road, its eyes reflecting orange in the headlights, before it flits off into the darkness. This species is famous as the first known hibernating bird: In cool weather it may enter a torpid state, with lowered body temperature, heartbeat, and rate of breathing, for days or even weeks at a time. Science discovered this in the 1940s, but apparently the Hopi people knew it long before that: their name for the Poorwill means

adult male

Mexican Whip-poor-will

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Vireo

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