NYS Breeding Bird Atlas: Whip-Poor-Will

In a few months, the New York State Ornithological Association will be releasing its long anticipated book on the 2000-2005 New York State Breeding Bird Atlas, which I had the great privilege to participate in several blocks with.

Between now and then I would like to highlight species I think that have changed significantly between the first Atlas done 1980-1985 and the second done 2000-2005.  All data is from the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas and the information is subject to change.

To start with, we will look at the 3 species of Nightjars which occur in our area, the first being my favorite the Whip-poor-will.

Atlas Distribution 1980-1985

Atlas Distribution 1980-1985


As you can see the Whip-poor-will was widely distributed through out much of the eastern and northern parts of the state.  The heaviest concentrations were on eastern Long Island and in the hardwood forest that surrounds the Adirondack Mountains.  The species was scattered but present in the western part of the state and it is also important to note that this species was reported on Staten Island.

This species is very difficult to confirm breeding, due to its crepuscular habits and lack of a nest (they nest on a stump or directly on the ground).  No doubt this species bred in many of the areas listed on the map as probable.  Still at this time, the Whip-poor-will was a common bird of late evening in many rural areas, but even then these birds were less common than 20 years earlier (pre 1960).  Sadly, take a look at the latest atlas.

Atlast Distribution 2000-2005

Atlas Distribution 2000-2005


The Whip-poor-will has vanished from many areas it was common in only 20 years ago, virtually gone from the western part of New York.  There are still heavy concentrations on eastern Long Island, where it may be competing with Chuck-will’s-widow and along and near Ft. Drum Military Base in the NW part of the state, where a few dedicated researchers gained access to land and discovered a healthy population of Whip-poor-will’s.  But areas of the Southern Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Hudson Valley and Catskills, the question of the Whip-poor-will’s decline is unclear.  Some have proposed suburban sprawl and land fragmentation, in the Adirondacks it may be that woods have become, too mature and no longer have the open understory this species likes.  In many areas farm land has completely reverted to forest, no longer leaving wide ares of appropriate habitat.  But the real answer is that we really don’t know why this species has declined.

While the Whip-poor-will remains one of my favorite birds, I have made a few observations of my own this year.  I found one singing bird in its usual spot in Albany County this year, but found several more signing birds in an area that had been opened up by logging, in that area the undergrowth had been removed leaving stands of mostly large pines and created a habitat similar to the Pine Barrens the species loves on Long Island.  One wonders if decreased logging and forest fire prevention have done more harm to this species than we are currently aware?  I think its a question that at the very least needs to be looked into, and soon.


5 responses to “NYS Breeding Bird Atlas: Whip-Poor-Will

  1. Pingback: Decline of the Whip-poor-will « New York Outdoors Blog

  2. Whither the whippoorwill. We note its declining song at our place in Fryeburg, ME. The very thought of the precious rascal brings a smile, but the concerns of it’s shrinking sighting and habit loss makes me very sad. Have you found a whippoorwill “fan” site, or most up to date, useful for advocating protection, rearch for the whippie and chuck will’s and other nightjars etc?

  3. The whippoorwill has always been my favorite. When we were children we lived in New Jersey on a little farm and this bird always came. For three years we heard and saw the whippoorwill and now in the past two years we have not heard or seen them.

    I am saddened that there is a decline and pray that this awesome bird will be preserved. We would love to hear them soon…


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