The Seasonal Almanac: Whippoorwill Habitats

The Seasonal Almanac covers astronomical events and nature, including whippoorwill habitats, information about their preferred wintering grounds and their arrival date when returning in spring.

| April/May 2000

The Seasonal Almanac shares astronomical and nature events, this issue includes information on this elusive bird and whippoorwill habitats . . . the voice of a bird almost never seen but almost always heard. 

Here in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey where I live, the whippoorwill returns from its wintering grounds along the Southeast coast, Florida, the Gulf Coast and Mexico and is first heard in mid- to late-April. It leaves in early September, though I have occasionally heard the call as late as mid-month. The slightly larger chuck-will's-widow has a different, less insistent call and spends its springs and summers in the southeastern U.S. The smaller poorwill is found across most of the West. Both feed during the night, capturing insects while in flight, and spend most of their daytime hours resting on the forest floor. Interestingly, the whippoorwill does not construct nests; it usually lays its eggs on dead leaves or decaying wood.

There seems to be a decline in the numbers of whippoorwill habitats, presumably due to deforestation. That's a great shame and not only because this bird is a marvelous flyer, but also because it is a living, insect-eating machine. The call of the whippoorwill carries long distances, and several birds singing in tandem have been known to keep folks awake at night. But those of us who love nature would rather lose sleep than hear the pinewoods silenced forever of their haunting cry.

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