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Chuck-will's-widow Life History


Open WoodlandsChuck-will's-widows breed in pine, oak-hickory, and other forests of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. They tend to live in more open areas than the similar Whip-poor-will. In winter you can find them in brush, woodlands, hedgerows, thickets, and fields as far south as Colombia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean.Back to top


InsectsChuck-will's-widows catch flying insects at night. They eat mainly moths, beetles—including June beetles, scarabs, longhorned beetles, and click beetles—and dragonflies. Very occasionally, they have been seen eating birds such as Hooded, Palm, Yellow, and Cape May Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Swamp Sparrow, Carolina Wren, Cuban Emerald (a hummingbird), as well as bats.Back to top


Nest Placement

GroundNest sites are typically in dense thickets near openings such as road edges or forest clearings.

Nest Description

Chuck-will's-widows don't build nests; they simply lay their eggs on the ground among dead leaves, pine needles, or bare dirt. Incubating adults are incredibly well camouflaged and virtually invisible unless you nearly step on them.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-4 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.3-1.6 in (3.3-4 cm)
Egg Width:0.9-1.1 in (2.3-2.8 cm)
Incubation Period:20-21 days
Nestling Period:16-17 days
Egg Description:White to gray, with variable dark markings.
Condition at Hatching:Weak but with eyes open, covered in long, light-brown down, able to walk.
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Aerial ForagerThe Chuck-will's-widow's most apparent behavior is its incessant calling at night—the most typical experience people have with these birds. They do most of their foraging at dusk and dawn—though during full moons or under streetlights, when visibility is good, they may forage much of the night. They are buoyant and maneuverable in flight, catching flying insects with a short dive or chase followed by a snap of the bill. Long, stiff feathers around the mouth, called rictal bristles, help guide prey into their very wide gapes. Territorial males chase each other up to a quarter-mile while making a growling call. In courtship, males droop their wings, spread their tail feathers, ruffle their feathers and puff themselves up while calling to the female.Back to top


Common Bird in Steep Decline

Chuck-will's-widow numbers declined by about 1.6% per year for a cumulative decline of approximately 58% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 5.7 million and rates them 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern. However, Chuck-will's-widow is included in the list of Common Birds in Steep Decline for species that are still too numerous or widely distributed to warrant Watch-List status but have been experiencing troubling long-term declines. Chuck-will's-widows aren't active during most of the day, so they can be difficult to survey. Interested individuals can help count nightjars, including the Chuck-will's-widow, by joining the United States Nightjar Survey organized by the Center for Conservation Biology at William & Mary College. Chuck-will's-widows may be vulnerable to pesticide use since they have such an insectivorous diet. They are also very sensitive to disturbance at their nests.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M. Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Straight, Carrie A. and Robert J. Cooper. (2012). Chuck-will's-widow (Antrostomus carolinensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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