Species Spotlight: Whip-poor-will
Common name: Whip-poor-will
Few birds have as distinct a song as the Whip-poor-will. Most frequently heard around the dusk or dawn hours, the bird's emphatic "whip-poor-will" notes ring from its perches on tree branches or rocky outcrops where it is well camouflaged. Its beautiful soft colour tones range from shades of brown with gray and white, to lighter shades on its wingtips and tail feathers, with tan or whitish coloured markings on its belly.
The nocturnal Whip-poor-will is most active at dusk and at early dawn when it is out foraging for flying insects, its only source of food. Its preferred habitats include semi-open forest with exposed rock outcrops, grasslands, pastures, and habitats with exposed mineral soils. Whip-poor-wills avoid heavily forested areas, heavily farmed areas, and human settlements.
In Canada, the Whip-poor-will ranges from south-central Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, south of the boreal forest. During its breeding season, its range extends down into the northern Gulf States and Mexico. The winter months are spent in areas from the southern United States to Nicaragua.
This species is not known to prepare a formal nest, instead laying its eggs within a site of dried leaves. Clutch size is an average of two eggs, with chicks being quite mobile once born.
The Whip-poor-will is listed as Threatened under Schedule 1 of Canada's Species At Risk Act. The species is also protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
Long-term and short-term declines in the species have been seen, particularly in eastern populations. Local populations have dropped more than 30% over a 10-year period; the decline is most likely linked to other insect-feeding bird species' population declines, due to habitat loss and significant changes to the prey base.
What You Can Do
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Birds of Nova Scotia
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC
Species at Risk Public Registry, SARA
Thanks to Nature Canada volunteer Michael Berrigan for contributing this profile.