Species of the Month, May 2022: Eastern Whip-poor-will

Species of the Month, May 2022: Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus)
by Mary Gartshore


A friend and fellow naturalist yawns in the morning sun as I pass him a cup of coffee. “So where is the off-switch for your whip-poor-will.” One of the pleasures of sleeping outdoors in Norfolk’s summer is the nightly chorus of our rich biodiversity. Eastern Whip-poor-will is definitely in the top spot. Whip-poor-will is one of three potential species of goat-suckers (family: Caprimulgidae) to be found in Norfolk. The other two are Common Nighthawk and Chuck-will’s Widow. The name goat-sucker is based on an old myth that these birds rob goat’s milk.

Whip-poor-will resting on a tree branch.
Photo by Len Grincevicius

Whip-poor-wills’ breeding range is from southern or wooded portions of Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan south to Oklahoma and South Carolina with Canada accounting for 20% of the breeding range for the species. They winter farther south from South Carolina to Panama. Eastern Whip-poor-wills are considered Threatened in both Ontario and Canada due to a 30% population decline.

Whip-poor-wills require a combination of open natural forest and edge habitat associated with large forested blocks for nesting. As ground nesters, they are vulnerable to predators such as cats, raccoons, grackles and squirrels – all species whose numbers are subsidized by human activities. Whip-poor-wills often sit on warm rocks or pavement just after sunset, and so are also prone to being hit by vehicles. Whip-poor-will eye-shine at night is a brilliant red making them easy to detect with a flashlight. Whip-poor-wills occur in as many as four LPBLT nature reserves, all of which have dry edges and forest habitats associated with large blocks of forest.

Whip-poor-will sitting on its nest.
Photo by David J. White