At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Nightjars, Upland Ground Birds
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Southeast, Texas
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Some spend the winter in Florida but most migrate well south, wintering in the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.
12" (30 cm). Larger than Eastern Whip-poor-will, rich buffy brown all over. Chest often looks darker than throat (opposite of Whip-poor-will's pattern). Shows less white in tail in flight.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Tan, White
Long, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
A mellow chuck-will's-widow, repeated over and over, the chuck deep and low, the rest of the call whistled.
Croak/Quack, Hoot, Odd, Whistle
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thought to be declining in parts of its range, possibly because of loss of habitat.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Chuck-will's-widow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Chuck-will's-widow
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.