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Eastern Whip-poor-will

Antrostomus vociferus

The Eastern Whip-poor-will, scientifically known as Antrostomus vociferus, is a medium-sized bird of the nightjar family, Caprimulgidae. This elusive creature, measuring 22–27 cm in length with a wingspan of 45–50 cm, is more often heard than seen due to its excellent camouflage. Its plumage is a complex pattern of grey, black, and brown, allowing it to blend seamlessly into its surroundings.

Identification Tips

Adult Eastern Whip-poor-wills possess mottled upperparts with a mix of grey, black, and brown, while the lower parts are primarily grey and black. The species has a notably short bill and a distinct black throat. Males can be distinguished by a white patch below the throat and white tips on the outer tail feathers, whereas these features appear light brown in females.

Habitat

These birds favor deciduous or mixed woods for breeding, selecting shaded locations among dead leaves to nest on the ground.

Distribution

The Eastern Whip-poor-will breeds across central and southeastern Canada and the eastern United States. When winter arrives, they migrate to warmer climates in the southeastern United States, eastern Mexico, and Central America.

Behaviour

Whip-poor-wills are nocturnal foragers, adept at catching insects mid-flight under the cover of darkness. During the day, they rest, often remaining motionless and undetectable. They are known to nest on the ground, typically laying two eggs, and exhibit a strong tendency to stay on the nest unless disturbed at close quarters.

Song & Calls

The bird's common name is derived from its continuous and haunting "whip-poor-will" vocalization, which is a distinctive aspect of the soundscape within its range.

Breeding

Eastern Whip-poor-wills lay their eggs on the ground, preferring the shelter of dead leaves in shaded locales. The clutch usually consists of two eggs.

Similar Species

The Eastern Whip-poor-will is often confused with the related chuck-will's-widow, which has a similar but lower-pitched and slower call.

Diet and Feeding

These birds are insectivorous, feeding on flying insects which they catch in flight during their nocturnal hunts.

Conservation Status

The Eastern Whip-poor-will is classified as Near Threatened. Populations have declined by over 60% between 1970 and 2014, with habitat loss, predation, and declines in insect populations due to pesticides and intensified agriculture being potential factors in their decline. Conservation initiatives are considered crucial for the reversal of this trend.

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Eastern Whip-poor-will Fun Facts

Did you know?
Eastern Whip-poor-wills corresponds the hatching of their young with the full moon, as the adults can then hunt for the entire night.

Eastern Whip-poor-wills on Birda

Sightings

More Nightjars

A photo of a Chuck-will's-widow (Antrostomus carolinensis)

Chuck-will's-widow

Antrostomus carolinensis
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