The Whip-poor-will or whippoorwill, Caprimulgus vociferus, is a medium-sized (22-27 cm) nightjar from North and Central America. The Whip-poor-will is commonly heard within its range, but less often seen. It is named onomatopoeically after its call

This bird is sometimes confused with the related Chuck-will's-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis) which has a similar but lower-pitched and slower call.

Adults have mottled plumage: the upperparts are grey, black and brown; the lower parts are grey 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 outer tail feathers; in the female, these parts are light brown.


The Whip-poor-will's breeding habitat is deciduous or mixed woods across southeastern Canada, eastern and southwestern United States, and Central America. Northern birds migrate to the southeastern United States and south to Central America. Central American races are largely resident. These birds forage at night, catching insects in flight, and normally sleep during the day. Whip-poor-wills nest on the ground, in shaded locations among dead leaves, and usually lay two eggs at a time. The bird will commonly remain on the nest unless almost stepped upon.

The Whip-poor-will is becoming locally rare. Larry Penny has recorded a 97% decline since 1983 in New York state. Several reasons for the decline are proposed, like habitat destruction, predation by feral cats and dogs, and poisoning by insecticides, but the actual causes remain elusive. Still, the species as a whole is not considered globally threatened due to its huge range.

In human culture

In 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.

Due to the haunting, ethereal song, the Whip-poor-will is among the most frequently evoked symbols of the rural USA. It is mentioned in popular culture including works such as:

      Barn Burning  by William Faulkner



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