Species Profile

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus
Other/Previous Names: Whip-poor-will ,Caprimulgus vociferus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2009
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2bc
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: In Canada, this well-known, nocturnal bird has experienced both long-term and short-term population declines.  Indices of abundance indicate that populations have been reduced by more than 30% over the last 10 years (i.e. 3 generations). Like other aerial foraging insectivores, habitat loss and degradation as well as changes to the insect prey base may have affected Canadian populations.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 2009.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2011-02-04

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Eastern Whip-poor-will

Eastern Whip-poor-will Photo 1

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Taxonomy

Six subspecies of Whip-poor-will are recognized. Since the species is represented in Canada only by the subspecies vociferus, the name Whip-poor-will is used here without specifying the subspecies.

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Description

The Whip-poor-will is a medium-sized bird, 24 cm long. It is recognized by its incessant haunting song, which sounds like “whip-poor-will,” hence its name. This crepuscular-nocturnal, insect-eating bird has a large, flattened head, large eyes and a small bill with a large mouth ringed with long, fine feathers that serve as sensory bristles for capturing flying insects. The plumage of both adult sexes is cryptic, grey and brown, which confers effective camouflage while they roost during the day, mostly on ground leaf litter. Males have a white collar on the upper breast and have large white tail patches; in females these are buff, and the tail patches are reduced.

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Distribution and Population

The breeding range of Whip-poor-will of the subspecies vociferus extends from east-central Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, in the north, and from Oklahoma to South Carolina, in the south. In Canada, the subspecies breeds from east-central Saskatchewan, although sparsely, eastward through southern Manitoba, southern and south-central Ontario, southern Quebec, New Brunswick, and locally in central Nova Scotia. During the winter, Whip-poor-will of the subspecies vociferus ranges from coastal South Carolina, although rarely, through Florida and along the Gulf Coast of the United States into Mexico, and even into northern Central America. According to Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data collected since the 1990s, the size of the total Canadian population has been estimated at 66 000 adults. Estimates are assigned to the provinces as follows: Ontario 30 000, Quebec 20 000, Manitoba 8 000, Saskatchewan 6 000 and New Brunswick 2 000. There are no estimates for Nova Scotia. Long-term BBS data show an annual decline of 3.5% between 1968 and 2007, which amounts to a loss of 75% of the population over this period. However, short-term trends over the last three generations, i.e. the last 12 years, suggest a loss of 35%. Immigration of individuals from the United States is possible, but unlikely, because the species is also showing significant declines across its American range.

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Habitat

Whip-poor-will breeding habitat is not dependent upon species composition, but rather on forest structure, although common tree associations in both summer and winter are pine and oak. The species shuns both wide-open spaces and dense forest. It prefers to nest in semi-open forests or patchy forests with clearings, such as barrens or forests that are regenerating following major disturbances. Other necessary breeding habitat elements are thought to involve ground-level vegetation and woodland size. Individuals will often feed in nearby shrubby pastures or wetlands with perches. Areas with decreased light levels where forest canopies are closed are generally not occupied, perhaps because of reduced forage success for this aerial-feeding insectivore. In winter, Whip-poor-wills occupy primarily mixed coniferous-broadleaved forests. Common tree associations in Florida are pine and oak.

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Biology

Little information is available on this species in Canada. However, breeding is known to occur by the age of one year and adults appear to exhibit fidelity to nesting sites. Males establish territory at the beginning of the nesting season. In Ontario, clutches are laid between late May and early July. Females lay two eggs directly on the ground, on leaf litter. The incubation period is 19 to 21 days. Both parents contribute to raising the young and can raise two broods per year. The male takes responsibility for the first nest once incubation of the second nest by the female begins. The Whip-poor-will is insectivorous, eating a wide variety of insect species. It feeds primarily by sallying from perches, rather than hawking like Common Nighthawks. The annual survival rate for adults might be as high as 77%, and the longevity record is 15 years.

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Threats

The factors limiting Whip-poor-will populations in Canada are unknown, but several possible causes for the species decline have been identified. Habitat loss is thought to be a factor in declines of nightjars, including Whip-poor-wills, although no direct link has been demonstrated between Whip-poor-will population decline and reductions in critical habitat. The decrease in insect availability due to pesticides, climate change and changes in water or air quality are also possible causes of the decline. Finally, collisions with vehicles could also constitute a threat. Like most nightjars, Whip-poor-wills commonly sit on gravel roads or road shoulders at night, making them particularly vulnerable to automobile collisions. To the list of factors contributing to Whip-poor-will declines can be added nest disturbance due to increases in populations of cats, racoons and other potential predators.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Whip-poor-will is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

In the provinces where it is found, the Whip-poor-will is not protected by any provincial legislation. In Canada, the species is protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. In Ontario, the species benefits from some degree of protection when it occurs in Pinery Provincial Park, Rondeau Provincial Park and the St. Williams Conservation Reserve in the Norfolk Sand Plain. The Whip-poor-will is also present in the Long Point National Wildlife Area, which is federal land protected under the Species at Risk Act.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Contact Person for Recovery Planning

  • Québec: Unité de planification de la conservation - Service canadien de la faune - Chair/Contact -
     Send Email

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

35 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Whip-poor-will (2009-11-25)

    In Canada, this well-known, nocturnal bird has experienced both long-term and short-term population declines.  Indices of abundance indicate that populations have been reduced by more than 30% over the last 10 years (i.e. 3 generations). Like other aerial foraging insectivores, habitat loss and degradation as well as changes to the insect prey base may have affected Canadian populations.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus) in Canada (2018-11-08)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Eastern Whip-poor-will and has prepared this recovery strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry), Quebec (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as per section 39(1) of SARA.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located in southeastern Georgian Bay in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Georgian Bay is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, the 30,000 Islands, and the park acts as a southern gateway into this area. Comprising 63 dispersed islands and shoals the total area of the park is 14 km2 from the Centennial Group in the south to McQuade Island 50 kilometres northward. Situated just 150 km from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), GBINP is within a half-day’s drive for millions of Canadians. Created in 1929 it is Canada’s smallest national park straddling two natural regions and forms a core protected area of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. The park lies on the edge of the Canadian Shield and is home to both northern and southern plants and animals. The islands are renowned for the variety of reptiles and amphibians they support. The park also has significant cultural value, having been occupied continuously for over 5,500 years. Maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is the first priority of national parks (Canada National Parks Act s.8(2)). Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are therefore protected by existing national park regulations and management regimes. In addition, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibitions protecting individuals and residences apply automatically when a species is listed, and all critical habitat in national parks and national historic sites must be legally protected within 180 days of being identified.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-11-22)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for La Mauricie National Park and National Historic Sites of La Mauricie and Western Quebec regions (2020-10-06)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for La Mauricie National Park and Canada's national historic sites (NHS) that are part of the Mauricie and Western Quebec Field Unit (MWQFU) applies to the land and waters within the boundaries of La Mauricie National Park (LMNP) and 13 NHSs in Quebec: Obadjiwan–Fort Témiscamingue; Forges-du-Saint-Maurice; Fort Chambly; Fort Lennox; Battle of the Châteauguay; Coteau-du-Lac; Carillon Barracks; Manoir Papineau; Louis-Joseph Papineau; Louis S. St-Laurent; Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site; Sir Wilfrid Laurier; and Sir George-Étienne Cartier. This plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA; section 47) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur on these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in LMNP and on associated NHSs.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada (2021-10-07)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada applies to all federally owned lands and waters managed by Parks Canada in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP), including Bead Hill National Historic Site. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the province of Ontario, the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle, and environmental non-government organizations as per section 48(1) of SARA. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at RNUP. In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the 60-day public comment period on the proposed Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada has been extended to 90 days to provide sufficient time for feedback.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016-03-29)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2009 (2009-08-28)

    2009 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species, December 2009 (2009-12-17)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 1, 2010 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 1, 2011 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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