Posted on June 15, 2017 by Neil Ungerleider



Photo:  TonyCastro - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Once a sound heard in communities throughout Massachusetts in early summer, the Eastern Whip-poor-will is now found only in a relatively few locations.

“The call is unmistakable:  a rapidly whistled three-note phrase, ‘Whip-poor-will,'” the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife writes on its website.

 Once common to Essex County, their numbers are now sharply reduced.

While not threatened with extinction, the bird is now listed by the state as a Species of Special Concern.  Its population decline is the result of a shrinking habitat lost to development or agriculture.

Whip-poor-wills need an open woodland adjacent to meadows and shrublands.  “The open woodlands are used for nesting and the adjacent meadows and shrublands are used for foraging,” according to the state agency.

Even in their habitat, the whip-poor-will is easier to hear than to see.  "Their brindled plumage blends perfectly with the gray-brown leaf litter of the open forests where they breed and roost,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“Eastern Whip-poor-wills belong to an unusual family of birds called nightjars, named so because their loud repetitive songs ‘jar’ the silence of the night,” according to Mass Audobon.  “They are sometimes described as 'aerial vacuum cleaners' because they fly though the night sky capturing moths, beetles, mosquitoes, and other insects in their enormous gapes.”

Whip-poor-wills sing at dusk; listen for them in the uplands of the Tompson Reservation in Gloucester.

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