by Pam Hunt
2012 marks the fifth year of NH Audubon’s habitat use research on the Eastern Whip-poor-will in the Mast Yard State
Forest (Hopkinton and Concord). This year we attached radio transmitters to six males, four of whom have followed the usual pattern of setting up a territory (usually 10-30 acres) and spending all their time there. But the other two birds have been far less predictable. One disappeared entirely few days after capture in late May, and we assumed he had been a lingering migrant, so imagine our surprise when on July 7 he was located 1.5 miles north of his original location. At this point we’re not sure what it’s doing at this new site, but you can be sure the telemetry efforts will be ramped up now that we know where he is. A second bird still sings regularly from his territory at night, but partway through the season started disappearing during the day. On July 7, he was found roosting 1.5 miles to the northeast, but presumably still returns to his Mast Yard haunts at night.
To my knowledge, this behavior has not been documented in Whip-poor-wills, and it certainly complicates our understanding of habitat use. We suspect the “commuting” bird is unmated since he sings far more persistently then his neighbors. While this allows him to leave his territory, it doesn’t really explain why he would make the effort. With a month left in the peak breeding season, there’s still a chance we can learn a little more about this and the other atypical bird.
Other noteworthy finds in 2012 included two nests (one with a chick, the other with two eggs), both discovered because a radioed male was incubating or brooding. Farther afield, a one-day “Whip-poor-will round-up” in the Ossipee Pine Barrens on June 28 yielded 51 birds, 23 of which were along the abandoned airstrip in Freedom. The Ossipee area clearly retains its title as the Whip-poor-will capital of the state.
Over the course of the project, we have learned a lot about the types of habitats preferred by this declining species, information which will be used to develop management recommendations once the study is complete.