Eastern Whip-poor-will

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Image:EastWhipoorwill.jpg

Common Name: Eastern Whip-poor-will
Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus

Size: 8.7-10.6 inches (22-27 cm); Wingspan: 18-20 inches (45-50 cm)

Habitat: North America; Breeding grounds in Ohio and Kansas have 60% of the population, Maryland and Ontario have 20% of the population. They arrive at their southern breeding grounds by late March and their northern by mid-May, with most arriving in April. It departs from breeding grounds September through November (depending on the weather) and winters in lowlands of South Carolina and the Gulf States, Southward through Eastern Mexico to Guatemala, Southern Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. Loose flocks may form during migration, but usually it is observed singly.

It is found in all types of forest and open woodland, especially of oak or mixed pine and oak, but also accepts a wide variety of semi-open habitats, including rural farmland, roadway corridors, clear-cut and selectively logged forest, old fields and reclaimed surface mines. It tolerates both arid and more humid conditions, from lowlands to montane altitudes. It can also be found in suburban habitats, and on migration in coastal scrub. In the Southeastern United States, it primarily occurs in mixed woodland, often in broadleaf evergreen woods near open areas. In Central Florida, winter territories were mostly found in Pinus elliotti-Quercus laevis, Pinus clausa, scrub and scrubby flatwoods.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: Unknown amount of adult individuals with a decreasing population trend in most of it’s range. The eastern whip-poor-will is becoming locally rare. Several reasons for the decline are proposed, such as habitat destruction, predation by feral cats and dogs, and poisoning by insecticides, but the actual causes remain elusive.Even with local populations endangered, the species as a whole is not considered globally threatened due to its large range. In Massaschuetts, it is listed as a “Species of Special Concern”.

Diet: It feeds on moths, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, mosquitoes, caddisflies, locusts, ants and possibly worms.

Feeding starts 30 minutes after sunset and is weather-dependent (none in cold, rainy weather); duration during dark depends on moonlight and probably abundance of flying insects. In the morning, feeding begins near first light and ends about 40 minutes before sunrise.

Nesting: Sexes are dimorphic. Adults have mottled plumage: the upper parts are gray, black and brown; the lower parts are gray and black. They have a very short bill and a black throat. Males have a white patch below the throat and white tips on the three outer tail feathers; in the female, these parts are light brown.

The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground, often at the base of a fallen log. Nest are frequently reused every breeding season. A clutch of 1–2 eggs are laid. They are elliptical, slightly glossy, white or pale cream, and unmarked or faintly marked pinkish and brownish or blotched and irregularly spotted brown, purple and lilac. Incubation begins with first egg, usually by female during day, with change-over at dusk to the male, with the female taking over again before dawn. This incubation period generally lasts 19–21 days. When hatched the chicks are covered in cinnamon, pale brown or buff down, fading to yellowish-tan within a few days. Fledging takes about 15 days.

Cool Facts: With its haunting, ethereal song, the eastern whip-poor-will is the topic of numerous legends. One New England legend says the whip-poor-will can sense a soul departing, and can capture it as it flees. This is used as a plot device in H. P. Lovecraft's story “The Dunwich Horror”. Lovecraft based this idea on information of local legends. This is likely related to an earlier Native American belief that the singing of the birds is a death omen. This is also referred to in whip-poor-will, a short story by James Thurber, in which the constant nighttime singing of a whip-poor-will results in maddening insomnia of the protagonist Mr. Kinstrey who eventually loses his mind and kills everyone in his house, including himself.

It is also frequently used as an auditory symbol of rural America, as in Washington Irving's story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, as a plot device. For example, William Faulkner's short story, "Barn Burning", makes several mentions of whip-poor-wills...

"and then he found that he had been asleep because he knew it was almost dawn, the night almost over. He could tell that from the whip-poor-wills. They were everywhere now among the dark trees below him, constant and inflectioned and ceaseless, so that, as the instant for giving over to the day birds drew nearer and nearer, there was no interval at all between them."

American poet Robert Frost described the sound of a whip-poor-will in the fourth stanza of his 1915 poem "Ghost House". This is notable in Frost's use of assonance, in...

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about.

In the 1934, Frank Capra’s Academy Award winning film, “It Happened One Night”, before Peter Warne (Clark Gable) reveals his name to Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), he famously says to her: "I am the whip-poor-will that cries in the night".

In music, "My Blue Heaven", written in 1924 by Walter Donaldson and George A. Whiting, and popularized by a 1928 Gene Austin recording, opens with the words, “When whip-poor-wills call, and evening is nigh, I hurry to my blue heaven."

Hank Williams's 1949 song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", opens with the lyric, "Hear that lonesome whip-poor-will/He sounds too blue to fly.". The whip-poor-will is also referenced in Hank Williams Jr's song "I'm Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams All Night Long" with the lyrics "Cause the wedding bells will never ring for me and that whip-poor-will ain't got no sympathy". Jim Croce too makes a reference to this bird in his song "I Got a Name": "Like the whip-poor-will and the baby's cry, I've got a song, I've got a song". Elton John and Bernie Taupin's 1975 song "Philadelphia Freedom" features a flute mimicking the call of the eastern whip-poor-will and includes the lyrics "I like living easy without family ties, till the whip-poor-will of freedom zapped me right between the eyes."


Found in Songbird ReMix Frogmouths, Nightjars & Goatsuckers

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