Photo: Rob & Ann Simpson/Vireo

Chuck-will's-widow

Antrostomus carolinensis

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.
Conservation status Thought to be declining in parts of its range, possibly because of loss of habitat.
Family Nightjars
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.
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.
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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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

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

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Migration

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

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A mellow chuck-will's-widow, repeated over and over, the chuck deep and low, the rest of the call whistled.