Eastern Whip-poor-will

Caprimulgus vociferus
Eastern Whip-poor-will specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Named for its onomatopoeic nighttime song, the Eastern Whip-poor-will is far more likely to be heard than seen. This nightjar is mottled brown overall with a white throat and large eyes. If seen, the Eastern Whip-poor-will may be separated from other nightjars by its size (9 ½ inches) and striking white tail patches. Males and females are similar to one another in all seasons. The Eastern Whip-poor-will breeds in the northeastern United States and southern Canada, from Nova Scotia south to Georgia and from the Mid-Atlantic west to central Nebraska and Saskatchewan. In winter, this species may be found along the coast from South Carolina to Texas, as well as in Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. A group of Whip-poor-wills breeding in Arizona and New Mexico and wintering in central Mexico was recently discovered to be a separate species, the Western Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus arizonae). In summer, the Eastern Whip-poor-will breeds in deciduous or mixed deciduous and evergreen woodland, where they nest on the ground and roost pressed close to low branches. In winter, this species may be in similar habitats as in summer as well as in tropical forests and scrub habitats. The Eastern Whip-poor-will mainly eats flying insects. Due to its coloration and densely vegetated habitat, the Eastern Whip-poor-will is difficult to see during the day. Often, birdwatchers discover Eastern Whip-poor-wills on their nests by almost tripping over them while walking through the woods. Eastern Whip-poor-wills are more easily observed feeding at dusk, when they may be seen flying after insects and scooping them up with their beaks. This species is primarily active at dusk or dawn, but may also forage in the afternoon or late at night.

DC Information

Common summer resident, April to September. Breeds from late April to mid-July in upland forest near open fields. Its call, a whistled repetition of its name, is heard more often than the bird is seen. Female does not have white in the tail.

Specimen Information

This exhibit includes an adult and a juvenile.
This record is for the bird on the right.
Date:  5/5/1892
Collected By:  Henry Marshall
Locality:  Laurel, MD
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  125887

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalization

Sound from xeno-canto. XC54624 Antrostomus vociferus (Eastern Whip-poor-will)