Living Bird Magazine
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus
- ORDER: Caprimulgiformes
- FAMILY: Caprimulgidae
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.More ID Info
- Chotacabras Cuerporruín Norteño (Spanish)
- Engoulevent bois-pourri (French)
- Cool Facts
- Eastern Whip-poor-wills lay their eggs in phase with the lunar cycle, so that they hatch on average 10 days before a full moon. When the moon is near full, the adults can forage the entire night and capture large quantities of insects to feed to their nestlings.
- Eastern Whip-poor-will chicks move around as nestlings, making it difficult for predators to rob the nest. The parent may help by shoving a nestling aside with its foot, sometimes sending the young bird tumbling head over heels.
- The male Eastern Whip-poor-will often will investigate intruders near the nest by hovering in place with his body nearly vertical and his tail spread wide, showing off the broad white tips of the tail feathers.
- Eastern and Mexican Whip-poor-wills used to be considered one species, simply called the Whip-poor-will. But in 2011 they were split into two species based on differences in mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. Eastern Whip-poor-wills give faster, higher-pitched whip-poor-will calls and have more colorful eggs than their western counterparts.
- The Eastern Whip-poor-will may locate insects by seeing the bugs’ silhouettes against the sky. Its eyes have a reflective structure behind the retina that is probably an adaptation to low light conditions.
- The oldest recorded Eastern Whip-poor-will was at least 4 years old when it was found in Maryland in 1959. It had been banded in the same state.