Eastern Whip-poor-willCaprimulgus vociferus

adult
Warren Greene/VIREO
adult
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Eastern Whip-poor-will

Family

Description

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. Mexican Whip-poor-will is visually nearly indistinguishable, best separated by voice and range. Chuck-will's-widow is larger and buffier.

Voice

A loud, rhythmic whip-poor-will, repeated over and over, at night.

Listen

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

Habitat

Dry, open woodlands and canyons.

Range

Breeds from Saskatchewan and Maritime Provinces south to Kansas, northern Louisiana, and northern Georgia. Winters from Florida and Gulf Coast southward. Whip-poor-will sightings in eastern Texas could be Eastern, Mexican or potentially both species. The boundary between the two species' ranges is a subject of active study, and caution should be exercised in the area where the ranges could overlap.

Discussion

The Eastern Whip-poor-will is rarely seen because it sleeps by day on the forest floor, its coloration matching the dead leaves. At night, its eyes reflect ruby red in car headlights. Whip-poor-wills, like other night-flying birds, were once suspected of witchery. They fly around livestock at dusk to feed on insects swarming over the animals. It was believed that they sucked milk from goats' udders and caused them to dry up; hence their family name, Caprimulgidae, from the Latin capri and mulgus, meaning "goat-milker." Until recently they were inaccurately called "goatsuckers," but now the name "nightjar" is preferred. The Mexican Whip-poor-will was recently separated from this species.

Nesting

2 white eggs, scrawled with gray and brown, placed on the ground among dead leaves.

Similar Species

adult

Chuck-will's-widow

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

adult

Buff-collared Nightjar

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

adult male

Lesser Nighthawk

8-9" (20-23 cm). Similar to Common Nighthawk but smaller, with white wing patch (buff in female) nearer tip of wing (visible in flight). Both sexes have buffy cast to underparts.

adult male

Antillean Nighthawk

9 1/2" (24 cm). A jay-sized bird, mottled grayish-black. Long slightly notched tail and long pointed wings with broad white wing bar. Similar to Common Nighthawk, but slightly smaller and paler.

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.

adult male dark morph

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.

adult male

Mexican 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.

Vireo

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