Whippoorwill bird, also known as Caprimulgus vociferus, belongs to the order Caprimulgiformes, and the Caprimulgidae family, which also includes nightjars and allies, the potoos, frogmouths, oilbirds, and the only member of their own order, the three-toed sloth or masked sloth (Bradypus torquatus).
They are related to swifts and hummingbirds, and their name is sometimes spelled whip-poor-will.
Caprimulgus vociferus lives all over the continental United States, and it can be found as far north as southern Canada. It inhabits mostly uninhabited areas like grasslands and forests, but it will also make its home near human settlements and in areas with a lot of insects to feed on. The name comes from the bird’s call, which can often be heard late at night throughout the warmer months of the year.
Whippoorwill bird description
The whippoorwill bird is native to North America, living in a variety of habitats such as swamps, marshlands, and heavily forested areas. It’s most active at night and during twilight hours, which is when the bird gets its name.
Their call is said to sound like a shrill whistle-pip-ee! at a frequency of 3 kHz. The whippoorwill can be found all over North America, inhabiting various environments including swamps, marshes, and densely wooded areas.
These birds are mostly nocturnal with their favorite time being around dusk and dawn. They often give off a low-pitched three-kilohertz song that sounds similar to whrrrrr-pip-eeee.
Scientific name of the Whippoorwill bird
The scientific name of the Whippoorwill bird is Caprimulgus vociferus
Where do whippoorwills live?
Found mostly in woodland regions, the whippoorwill bird can be found throughout the eastern United States, from Virginia to Florida and Mexico. Though this nocturnal creature is most often heard than seen, they are easily identifiable by their call of whip-poor-will which they repeat periodically all through the night.
They are also called Poor Will’s birds because of their continual song pattern. These birds nest in a variety of habitats and some may nest on the ground or in trees. The nests themselves are made up of grasses, weeds, twigs, and leaves with little to no feathers.
A Female Whippoorwill bird lays two eggs but only one chick usually survives due to lack of food availability. Chicks will stay in the nest for around three weeks before they fledge; however, they will not fly until six weeks old when they have reached full size.
Size and weight
The male whippoorwill birds have an average weight of 55 g and female whippoorwill birds have an average weight of about 50 g, while their average length is 24 cm.
Feathers and plumage
Whippoorwill bird feathering is generally brown, but they have lighter markings on their upper chest and throat region. They have a slender bill that can be a mix of yellow, orange, or pink depending on the age of the bird. Adults tend to have an all-pink bill with darker markings on their lower chest and chin area. Juveniles will typically start off with a mostly dark bill, gradually lightening as they get older.
During the winter months, birds will often molt to replace their worn-out feathers. Molting will take time and energy that could be used for other tasks, but when done it gives the bird a new coat of feathers and a fresh start. Birds may lose up to 30% of their body weight while molting as they spend so much energy on replacing lost feathers.
There are different types of molts: pre-basic, basic, pre-alternate, alternate, and post-alternate. For example, the whippoorwill bird (Caprimulgus vociferus) has a pre-basic molt in late summer or early fall which is followed by an alternated pattern during the winter months. In contrast, many waterfowl have only one type of molt.
The seasonality of molting varies depending on where the species lives and what food sources are available; some birds migrate in order to adjust timing with the availability of food resources.
You can generally find their sort of nesting activity happening from late May to late June. The male bird establishes his territory and sings at night to deter other male birds while attracting a female. As part of a complex courtship display, the male bird approaches the female and dances around her, occasionally bowing his head as she does, while both birds emit calls.
He may also approach her from alternating sides, brushing his beak against hers as he reaches her. Mating will not take place until this courtship display is finished.
The Whip-poor-will bird doesn’t build a nest, like most other bird species. They place the eggs on top of dead leaves on the ground. They usually lay their eggs near a log in a shaded location, often near a small clearing or at the edge of the forest, while in the West they lay their eggs under a rocky overhang on a slope or in a wooded ravine.
Nesting appears to be timed so that the moon is half or more full when the young are being fed – because the additional light during the night would be beneficial to caring for the young.
Diet and foraging
As nocturnal birds, whippoorwill birds search for their prey in the dark. They are carnivorous feeders and use their long beaks to probe soft earth or leaf litter for insects and invertebrates like earthworms. Whippoorwills have also been seen foraging on the ground for seeds or chasing down grasshoppers.
Sounds and vocal behavior of a whippoorwill bird
The whippoorwill’s call has a frog-like quality, which is one of the most common sounds you’ll hear at night in many rural areas. The sound generally lasts from 1 to 2 seconds and can be repeated in a rhythmic pattern for as long as 30 minutes.
They make this sound because they are trying to attract mates or to warn off other species. Whippoorwills will make this noise both day and night but it’s not quite as loud during the day when other animals may have competition with their calls.
One to two eggs are laid by the female, which is whitish or creamy in color with brown and grey spots or blotches. During the day, the female does the work of incubating the eggs, while both parents share in the nighttime shift. An incubation period lasts about 19 to 21 days.
The hatchlings are covered in a protective down layer and can manage short-distance movements shortly after they hatch. Sometimes, the little ones will go their separate ways soon after hatching, maybe to make it harder for predators to find them.
The parents often shove the fledglings out of the nest with their feet. The male typically guards the nest and the fledglings from harm. Males hover in place near the nest, held upright by their tail feathers and making chirping sounds. Chicks respond to these with louder cheeps.
As the young are growing, both parents feed them regurgitated food (insects), and they continue to brood them until they are ready to fly. About 20 to 21 days after hatching, the young take their first flight.
If conditions are ideal, the female may lay a second clutch nearby while she is incubating the new set of eggs, and the male continues to care for the babies from the first brood.
This unusual-looking bird has a lifespan of up to 15 years, as measured in human years.
Movements and migration
The whippoorwill usually migrates from the southern and central U.S. in the winter to more northern regions, but it may stay as far north as Canada during a severe winter, according to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. During periods of food scarcity, they may stray further south, but this is rare; their range has not changed much in hundreds of years.
They are one of the few bird species that migrate only at night. They sometimes stop singing for long periods, up to two weeks at a time, which scientists think might be related to their migration patterns or changes in day length with seasons.
Diseases and threats
Common threats to the whippoorwill bird include predation and disease. In general, the species has a good recovery rate and adapts well to urban settings when necessary. The population has not yet been affected by most major diseases that have impacted other species.
Some of these diseases include West Nile Virus, European Starling Disease, avian influenza virus subtype H5N1, salmonellosis, erythromycin-resistant strains of Mycoplasma gallisepticum, aspergillosis or cryptococcosis caused by fungi in the genus Cryptococcus or Aspergillus respectively.
The Population of whippoorwill bird species is estimated to be over 2,100,000, but New Mexico holds less than one percent of them.
Conservation and management
The whippoorwill bird lives year-round on the coastal plains from southern New Jersey to central Florida and west to eastern Texas. It is typically found at night calling near open areas like fields, marshes, golf courses, or wetland edges. It also roosts in dense vegetation, woodland edges, and hedgerows.
There are not many predators of this species due to its nocturnal habits and cryptic coloration. Nevertheless, one threat is the use of pesticides in agriculture which may affect insect populations upon which it feeds. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists this species as Least Concern with a stable population trend.