Scientific name: Caprimulgus vociferus
The Whip-poor-will is a 50-55 g crepuscular-nocturnal, insectivorous bird with cryptic plumage. Whip-poor-wills have a large gape ringed with sensory bristles for capturing flying insects. All Canadian populations belong to the one eastern North America subspecies (C. v. vociferus).
The breeding range of C. v. vociferus extends from east-central Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, southward into the USA from Oklahoma to South Carolina. This breeding range is approximately 2,772,000 km2, of which approximately 535,000 km2 occurs in Canada. During the winter, this subspecies ranges from coastal South Carolina (rarely) through Florida and along the Gulf Coast of the USA into Mexico and northern Central America.
Whip-poor-will breeding habitat is dependent upon forest structure rather than composition, although common tree associations in both summer and winter are pine (Pinus) and oak (Quercus). The species avoids both wide-open spaces and closed-canopy forests. Semi-open forests or patchy forests with clearings, such as barrens or forests that are regenerating following major disturbances, are preferred as nesting habitat. Areas with little ground cover are also preferred. In winter, Whip-poor-wills occupy primarily mixed woods, commonly in broadleaf evergreen forests near open areas.
Whip-poor-wills lay two eggs and both parents contribute to raising the young. Pairs can raise one or two broods per year. Breeding can occur in the first year following hatching, the longevity record is 15 years, and the survival rate for adults might be as high as 77%. These figures suggest that the average age of breeding adults in the population is four years.
Population sizes and trends
Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data from the 1990s have generated an estimated population size of 66,000 adult Whip-poor-wills in Canada. Long-term BBS data show a decline of 3.5%/yr between 1968 and 2007, which amounts to a population loss of 75% over this period. Based on this rate of decline, the population of Whip-poor-wills in Canada would have been reduced by 35% over the last three generations.
The factors implicated in the Whip-poor-will decline are speculative. Possible causes of decline include habitat loss and degradation, automobile collisions and changes in food supply related to pesticides and climate change.
Special significance of the species
The Whip-poor-will is commonly evoked as a symbol of rural life. It has attained significant status in popular culture, being mentioned in countless songs, poems, books, and movies.
Courtesy of Species at Risk Public Registry, Government of Canada