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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Chuck-will's-widow

Antrostomus carolinensis ORDER: CAPRIMULGIFORMES FAMILY: CAPRIMULGIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Listen at dusk and at night for the rolling, seemingly endless call of the Chuck-will’s-widow. If you are lucky and have a keen eye, by day they can be found resting motionless on the ground or on a horizontal branch. This is the largest nightjar in North America, but their dappled brown plumage makes them blend in perfectly to dry woodlands of the Southeast.

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Keys to identification Help

Owl-like
Owl-like
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The surprisingly large Chuck-will’s-widow has a huge flat head and long wings. It's significantly larger than Common Nighthawk and Whip-poor-will.

  • Color Pattern

    Warm brown tones with intricately patterned feathers make them extremely well-camouflaged. The wings are entirely brown; the outer tail feathers have white inner webs that you might see as one flushes from a roost or passes through your headlights. More often, you won't see white in the tail—this helps separate it from Whip-poor-will, in which the white is more prominent.

  • Behavior

    Calls at dusk, pre-dawn and at night. Chuck-will’s-widows often sit on the road and roadsides at night, where you'll occasionally spot them in headlights. Their eyes reflect a bright orange eyeshine. Also, sometimes seen at dusk gliding over trees giving their wing-clapping display or while hunting.

  • Habitat

    Look for Chuck-will’s-widow roosting in dry woodlands in the southeast, from pine barrens to oak-hickory and mixed deciduous woodlands.

Range Map Help

Chuck-will
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Field MarksHelp

  • Gray adult

    Chuck-will's-widow

    Gray adult
    • Gray body with black and tan markings
    • Long pointed wings
    • Brown tail barred with black
    • Dark streaking on gray crown
    • Large black eyes
    • © Rhys Marsh, Dry Tortugas, Florida, April 2011
  • Brown adult

    Chuck-will's-widow

    Brown adult
    • Gray, tan, and black camouflage pattern
    • Large black eye
    • Gray crown with thin black streaks
    • Very small bill
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Nueces County, Texas, April 2011
  • Gray adult

    Chuck-will's-widow

    Gray adult
    • Large nightjar with long, pointed wings
    • Bold black spots on back and shoulders
    • Very small bill
    • Think dark streaks on gray crown
    • Tan and black pattern visible on folded wings
    • © Robert Strickland, Citrus County, Florida, April 2009
  • Chick

    Chuck-will's-widow

    Chick
    • Gray and tan markings paler than adult
    • Well camouflaged
    • Pale fuzzy down on head
    • Large black eyes
    • © Victor Fazio, Kohler Hill, Comanche County, Oklahoma, June 2008
  • Gray adult

    Chuck-will's-widow

    Gray adult
    • Small bill
    • Long bristles extending out from base of bill
    • Thin dark streaks on gray crown
    • Often roosts with eyes closed during daytime
    • © Robert Strickland, Citrus County, Florida, April 2009
  • Brown adult

    Chuck-will's-widow

    Brown adult
    • Stiff bristles extend from base of bill
    • Broad tail buffy underneath with patterned edges
    • Very small bill
    • Large black eyes
    • © Dave Irving, Miami, Florida, March 2011

Similar Species

Similar Species

Whip-poor-will is significantly smaller and grayer than Chuck-will’s-widow. Whip-poor-will's outer tail feathers have white tips that are visible when the tail is spread in flight. Chuck-will’s-widow has white only on the inner half of these feathers, so the tail appears much less white overall. Common Pauraque of South Texas also has prominent white on the outer tail feathers and white slashes in the wings. Common Nighthawk has white slashes on the wings in flight, and a white throat. They are gray overall, opposed to brown of Chuck-will’s-widow. When perched, nighthawks have a smaller head and often choose a more conspicuous perch.