NYS Breeding Bird Atlas: Chuck-Will’s-Widow

When you have the first name of Will, none of these birds sound too good.  Whip poor will?  Why, what did I do?  Chuck Will’s Widow?  Of course if I have a widow… It means I’m dead, again not a good thing for me.

Getting back to reality….

Chuck-will’s-widow  is the second Nightjar we will examine in relation to the upcoming publication of the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas.  Like a number of other species, the Chuck-will’s-widow  has ‘invaded’ New York State from areas further south, but so far the invasion has been limited to Long Island and the New York City area, despite a few reports of calling birds in the southern tier and Finger Lakes. (The following Maps are from the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas  Web Site and that the maps should be used with caution).

Atlas Distribution 1980-1985

Atlas Distribution 1980-1985


As you can see the birds were exclusively confined to Long Island and Staten Island.  The birds at this time seemed widely distributed, although uncommon on the Pine Barrens of eastern Long Island.  The birds have similar habits to that of their cousin Whip-poor-will  although they do not appear to overtly compete against each other.  But like the Whip-poor-will, the Chuck-will’s-widow is also showing a disturbing amount of decline as is evidenced by the last Atlas.

Atlas Distribution 2000-2005

Atlas Distribution 2000-2005


This species appears to be holding on by a slim thread in the New York State, with only a select few locations holding calling birds.  This species, along with Whip-poor-will has declined in Eastern Long Island, however it appears Whip-poor-will  population is more stable.  It is still possible however to go to select sites on Long Island and hear both birds calling at dusk (Corey Finger  Pers. Comm.).

But the question again is, why the decline?  Since both Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow  have shown significant decline in central Long Island, one wonders if urban sprawl/habitat fragmentation is to blame.  It is also possible that Chuck-will’s-widow underwent a range expansion which lasted for years and is now (for reasons unknown) experiencing a range contraction.  Similar events have happened to birds such as Northern Mockingbird and Carolina Wren, but those species tolerance of humans is much higher than most Nightjars, despite the often urban environments both Chuck-will’s-widow  and Common Nighthawks choose to live in sometimes.

It is interesting to note that Chuck-will’s-widow is perhaps the closest of the three Nightjars to be extirpated from the state, yet the New York State Department of Environmental does not list the species in its endangered species unit.  Both Whip-poor-will and Common Nighthawkare listed with the casual listing of “Species of Special Concern”.  I would recommend that Chuck-will’s-widow be listed as Threatened, until further study can be done to determine what population remains and how stable it is.


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