Eastern Whip-Poor-Will

Eastern Whip-Poor-Will (Caprimulgus vociferous)


Eastern whip-poor-will./J. Larkin

General: People are more apt to hear this bird's distinctive, repetitive call than to see a whip-poor-will itself. Eastern whip-poor-wills live in moist and dry woods across the eastern and southern United States. Their plumage, a mix of camouflaging grays and browns, helps blend whip-poor-wills into the forest floor, where they often rest during daylight and where females place their nests. Whip-poor-wills are most active at dusk, on moonlit nights, and at dawn. They eat insects caught on the wing, including moths, mosquitoes, gnats, fireflies, and beetles. Whip-poor-wills lay their eggs directly on the leaf litter of the forest floor. They reach their greatest numbers in areas with young brushy woods, abandoned farmlands, and woods edges where rank plant growth supports large numbers of insects. Whip-poor-wills are not generally found in extensive mature woods with a dense overhead canopy and few openings. During migration, they seek out areas of young forest, shrubland, and old fields.

Status: The eastern whip-poor-will population fell about 3 percent annually between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, for an overall decline of some 75 percent. Conservationists believe this decline results from people converting forests to suburbs, intensively farmed fields, and pasture, and to forest maturation. The eastern whip-poor-will is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 21 eastern states across its summer breeding range. People can help scientists track whip-poor-will numbers by participating in the Nightjar Survey Network sponsored by the Center for Conservation Biology.

How to Help Whip-Poor-Wills: Timber harvests that create forest openings 30 acres and larger will make woodlands more attractive for whip-poor-wills. Landowners can keep old fields in a shrubby, brushy state, especially when they are located near areas of upland deciduous forest where whip-poor-wills can nest. In pine barrens, harvesting mature trees and conducting controlled burns can create openings and spur an increase in the insects that whip-poor-wills eat.

Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within the eastern whip-poor-will's range to increase your chances of hearing or seeing this fascinating bird, as well as other wildlife that need young forest.