Common PoorwillPhalaenoptilus nuttallii

adult male dark morph
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult male light morph
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult (defensive display)
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
Common Poorwill



7-8 1/2" (18-22 cm). Our smallest nightjar. Mottled gray-brown with no white mark on wings; whitish collar separates black throat from mottled underparts. Dark outer tail feathers are tipped with white, more conspicuously in male; tail is rounded.


A mellow poor-will.




Desert, chaparral, sagebrush, and other arid uplands.


Breeds from southeastern British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana south throughout western United States. Winters in southwestern states and Mexico.


The Common Poorwill has been discovered hibernating in the desert in California, surviving long cold spells in a torpid condition, without food and with its body temperature lowered almost to that of its surroundings. This adaptation is unique among birds. These nightjars are seen most often sitting on roads at night.


2 pinkish-white eggs on bare ground.

Similar Species



12" (30 cm). Pigeon-sized. Larger than the Whip-poor-will. Buff-brown body, brown chin.


Buff-collared Nightjar

9" (23 cm). Mottled gray-brown with buff collar. Male has white patches at corners of tail.


Eastern Whip-poor-will

10" (25 cm). Robin-sized. A leaf-brown, strictly nocturnal bird with black throat. Male has broad white tips on outer tail feathers, visible in flight. Female has all-brown tail.

adult male Western

Common Nighthawk

10" (25 cm). A jay-sized bird, mottled brownish-black above and below, perfectly matching the ground. Long notched or square-tipped tail and long pointed wings with broad white wing bar.

adult (gray morph) more common in US

Common Pauraque

12" (30 cm). Larger than the Whip-poor-will. Mottled brown. Brown body; wings and tail show white bands in flight, especially conspicuous in male. Identified mainly by voice.


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