Whip-poor-will

Caprimulgus vociferus

John Cassady
  • CAPRIMULGIDAE
  • Caprimulgiformes
  • Tapacaminos cuerporruin
  • Engoulevent bois-pourri
Introduction

A bird only active at night, the Whip-poor-will has mottled brown plumage, and is found in dry, open woodlands with little underbrush in most of the eastern United States, and parts of southeastern and south-central Canada, southwestern United States, Mexico, and into northern Central America.

Fun Fact

As their scientific name suggests, whip-poor-wills are very vociferous. John Burroughs, famous naturalist of the Burroughs Audubon Society in Kansas City, once heard a Whip-poor-will make 1,088 vocal repetitions before pausing.

Bird Sounds
© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio
Vocalization

A frequently repeated "whip-poor-WILL."

Appearance Description

Active only at night, seen in a moth-like flight, or when its red eyes reflect lights on or next to roads. Its mottled brown plumage offers effective daytime camouflage.

Range Map
Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

Breeds in most of the eastern United States, and parts of southeastern and south-central Canada, southwestern United States, Mexico, and into northern Central America. Winters from Florida along the Gulf of Mexico to northern Central America.

Habitat

Dry, open woodlands with little underbrush, usually deciduous, but also mixed or coniferous.

Feeding

Feeds on night-flying insects, grasshoppers, and mosquitoes. Forages primarily at dawn or dusk, but hunts for moths and beetles on moonlit nights. Detects prey by silhouette against the night sky. Usually swoops down from tree branches to capture prey, but will also rummage for insects in rotten logs.

Reproduction

The Whip-poor-will builds no nest but instead lays its eggs on leaf litter on the forest floor. Eggs and chicks are very well camouflaged, and there are nearly always 2 eggs to a clutch. Second broods are very common, and hatching is correlated with the full-moon cycle, enabling parents to adequately provide for their offspring. Chicks are quite mature when hatched, and quickly leave their nest, thus protecting the brooding location from predators.

Migration
  • 1.2 million
  • 1.2 million
  • 1.2 million now, 2.8 million 40 years ago
  • 57 percent in 40 years
Population Status Trends
Conservation Issues
  • Threats: Fire suppression in eastern deciduous forests is a major cause of habitat loss. These forests are also increasingly becoming fragmented by roads and development, and gypsy moth control programs or other forest spraying programs have decreased food supplies in some areas.

  • Outlook: Habitat for this species is increasingly scarce. The fate of this species and others that prefer open woodlands depends on deliberate management to create and maintain habitat.
What You Can Do

Support Sustainable Forests
Push for the protection, restoration and expansion of large forest blocks to sustain the full range of forest-loving species, especially the Canadian boreal forest where logging, mining and drilling are taking their toll. Back active management (including burns) to meet specific habitat requirements on government-owned lands and incentives for active forest management on private lands. Promote deer management that allows for the maintenance of forest understory plants.

More Information
Natural History References
Conservation Status References

Cink, C.L. (2002). Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus vociferus). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Birds of North America, Inc. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Whip-poor-will/

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Terres, J.K. (1987) The Audubon society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1109 pp.