Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus

adult
Warren Greene/VIREO
adult
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult
Arthur Morris/VIREO

Family

Description

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.

Habitat

Leafy woodlands. Breeds in rich moist woodlands, either deciduous or mixed; seems to avoid purely coniferous forest. Winter habitats are also in wooded areas.

Feeding Diet

Insects. Feeds on night-flying insects, especially moths, also beetles, mosquitoes, and many others.

Feeding Behavior

Forages at night, especially at dusk and dawn and on moonlit nights. Forages by flying out from a perch in a tree, or in low, continuous flight along the edges of woods and clearings; sometimes by fluttering up from the ground. Captures insects in its wide, gaping mouth and swallows them whole.

Nesting

Nesting activity may be timed so that adults are feeding young primarily on nights when moon is more than half full, when moonlight makes foraging easier for them. Male sings at night to defend territory and to attract a mate. Courtship behavior not well known; male approaches female on ground with much head-bobbing, bowing, and sidling about. Nest site is on ground, in shady woods but often near the edge of a clearing, on open soil covered with dead leaves. No nest built, eggs laid on flat ground. Eggs: 2. Whitish, marked with brown and gray. Incubation is by both parents (usually more by female), 19-21 days. Young: Cared for by both parents. Adults feed young by regurgitating insects. Age of young at first flight about 20 days. May raise 1 or 2 broods per year; female may lay second clutch while male is still caring for young from first brood.

Eggs

2. Whitish, marked with brown and gray. Incubation is by both parents (usually more by female), 19-21 days. Young: Cared for by both parents. Adults feed young by regurgitating insects. Age of young at first flight about 20 days. May raise 1 or 2 broods per year; female may lay second clutch while male is still caring for young from first brood.

Young

Cared for by both parents. Adults feed young by regurgitating insects. Age of young at first flight about 20 days. May raise 1 or 2 broods per year; female may lay second clutch while male is still caring for young from first brood.

Conservation

Numbers appear to have decreased over much of the east in recent decades. Reasons for the decline are not well understood, but it could reflect a general reduction in numbers of large moths and beetles.

Range

Many spend the winter in the southeastern states, in areas where Chuck-will's-widows are resident in summer. Others migrate south to Central America; few occur in the West Indies.

Listen

song #1 (eastern)
soft clucks
song & aug-aug-aug calls
song #2 (southwestern pattern)

Similar Species

adult

Chuck-will's-widow

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.

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 male

Lesser Nighthawk

A denizen of the arid southwest, the Lesser Nighthawk flies low over deserts and grasslands at dusk, capturing insects in flight. Very similar to the more widespread Common Nighthawk, but it is a much quieter bird, without the sharp calls and

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

In mountain forests of the southwest, this shy nightbird is fairly common in summer. Until recently, it was considered to belong to the same species as the Eastern Whip-poor-will; its voice has a similar pattern, but a rougher and lower tone quality.

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