Nature Bulletin No. 274-A September 16, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
On a farm, at dusk, there is peace and quiet. You hear contented sounds
of the livestock feeding; now and then the drone of an automobile on a
highway; maybe the barking of a distant dog. In early summer and
sometimes in September in wooded country you also hear the clear
melancholy whistles of the whip-poor-wills -- again and again and
again. Some years one is heard here in our forest preserves, because
these woodlands, are protected from fire and grazing but generally, this
night bird avoids thickly-settled regions.
people ever see a whip-poor-will. We once saw one when a big
white oak was cut to make split rails for a worm fence. She sat, only 10
feet away but unseen because of her dull coloration of mottled browns,
grays and black, over two eggs laid, without a nest, upon the fallen
leaves of the forest floor. When the tree crashed to the ground, she
fluttered away, as if with a broken wing, uttering peculiar guttural cries
and angry clucks, and then vanished like a ghost.
Another was a male that squatted down on a bare space just outside our
hilltop cabin, one moonlit night in June. He seemed determined to beat
the record of the bird which, according to John Burroughs, the famous
naturalist, made 1088 consecutive calls and then, after a pause, 390
more. Just preceding each call there was a soft "cluck". Then he threw
back his head, moved his tail up and down and, with a bowing motion,
pushed out the "whip-poor-will!" At such close range it was so raucous
and monotonous that we finally drove him away.
The last was a bird which was discovered one morning in early May,
crouching down on an overhanging limb. It rested there all day,
lengthwise of the limb and motionless, like a bump on a log, ignoring
the goings-on of squirrels, bluejays, crows and people. After sundown it
stirred, stretched its wings and flew away.
This Eastern whip-poor-will, about 9-l/2 inches long, is a chunky bird
with short legs, small weak feet unsuited for perching, broad wings, a
rounded tail, and soft plumage. Its beak is very small but with the
enormous mouth, fringed with long stiff bristles, enables it to scoop up -
- on the wing -- "June bugs" and other beetles, grasshoppers and large
moths, as well as mosquitoes and gnats. Whip-poor-wills apparently
rest in daytime, usually on the ground in some dense woodland and feed
only from dusk to dawn. Their large "shoebutton"' eyes are typical of
nocturnal birds and mammals. They make low short flights in graceful
curves, or double and twist in pursuit of the insects which they consume
in great quantities.
They winter along the Gulf coast as far south as Central America, and
summer from the northern part of our Gulf States to southern Canada,
east of the Great Plains. Their spring migration follows the appearance
of newly-hatched insects. They nest in late May or early June and then
the famous call of the male may be heard from dusk until about 10 p.m.
and, again, from 2 a.m. until dawn. To some country folks, this call is
an omen of bad luck, but to certain Indian tribes it meant good hunting
and good fishing.
In the south he has a large relative which calls "Chuck-Will's widow".
In the far west he has a small cousin who cries "Poor Will".
So do we.
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Update: June 2012