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Eastern Whip-poor-will

Antrostomus vociferus ORDER: CAPRIMULGIFORMES FAMILY: CAPRIMULGIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Eastern Whip-poor-will Photo

Made famous in folk songs, poems, and literature for their endless chanting on summer nights, Eastern Whip-poor-wills are easy to hear but hard to see. Their brindled plumage blends perfectly with the gray-brown leaf litter of the open forests where they breed and roost. At dawn and dusk, and on moonlit nights, they sally out from perches to sweep up insects in their cavernous mouths. These common birds are on the decline in parts of their range as open forests are converted to suburbs or agriculture.

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Songs

Although Eastern Whip-poor-wills are not technically songbirds, their whip-poor-will call functions as a song, since males consistently repeat this call from conspicuous perches during the breeding season.

Calls

  • Song
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The male’s emphatic, chanted whip-poor-will, sometimes repeated for hours on end, is a classic sound of warm summer nights in the countryside of the East. It commonly appears in regional songs and literature. A typical call accents the first and last syllable (with a tremulous middle syllable), and immediately starts in on the next call, creating a circular rhythm. Males and females both give a short, sharp quirt to contact their mates or express agitation when a predator is near the nest. They also make growls to ward off territorial intruders and hisses to ward off predators.

Other Sounds

The Eastern Whip-poor-will sometimes claps its wings to warn intruders away from its territory.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos