Photo: Laura Gooch/Flickr Creative Commons

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Antrostomus vociferus

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Nightjars
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
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.


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.

Diet

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


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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud, rhythmic whip-poor-will, repeated over and over, at night.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Nightjars Upland Ground Birds

Eastern Whip-poor-will

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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