Are Whip-poor-will populations declining? What can we do about it?

April 1, 2009
Eastern Whip-poor-wills are well camouflaged birds that are often heard before they are seen. Scientists are not sure why their populations have experience steep declines since the 1960s. Photo by Sue Barth via Birdshare. Eastern Whip-poor-wills are well camouflaged birds that are often heard before they are seen. Scientists are not sure why their populations have experience steep declines since the 1960s. Photo by Sue Barth via Birdshare.
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Whip-poor-wills are doing poorly throughout most of their range. Partners in Flight lists them as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline”, and the North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates a 69% drop in populations between 1966 and 2010. There is no surplus population anywhere from which to take individuals to reintroduce, and they, like most nightjars, are exceptionally difficult to maintain in captivity, so it would be hard to raise individuals for a reintroduction project.

Many people miss the nighttime sound of Whip-poor-wills, but until scientists work out exactly why they are declining, it’s difficult to determine how to restore their populations. You can help in this effort by joining the United States Nightjar Survey Network, a citizen-science project based at the College of William & Mary.

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