Whip-poor-will Research in 2015

Posted on November 1, 2015
Map of Eastern Whip-poor-will territories (shaded polygons) at Mast Yard State Forest (red outline) in 2015. The orange outlines represent new timber harvests in 2013. Note that both the new cuts supported whip-poor-wills – the species was never recorded in these areas during detailed study from 2008 to 2012.

Map of Eastern Whip-poor-will territories (shaded polygons) at Mast Yard State Forest (red outline) in 2015. The orange outlines represent new timber harvests in 2013. Note that both the new cuts supported whip-poor-wills – the species was never recorded in these areas during detailed study from 2008 to 2012.

From 2008-2012, Pam Hunt, Senior Biologist for NH Audubon, conducted extensive studies of habitat use by the Eastern Whip-poor-will in the Mast Yard State Forest (Hopkinton/Concord) and the Ossipee Pine Barrens. Among the more significant findings was the confirmation that whip-poor-wills prefer areas with edges or recently-disturbed forest, including burns, powerline corridors, and regenerating timber harvests. Birds will even move into such areas one to two years following the initial disturbance, indicating a high capacity for dispersal and colonization of new habitat – at least if it’s near existing whip-poor-will concentrations.

Since the study at Mast Yard ended, there have been two more cuts at the site: one where most of the mature trees were removed entirely and one where they were only thinned. Casual observations at the latter harvest in the summer of 2014 indicated that birds were using the area – where there had been no birds during the original study.

With this in mind, Pam decided to revisit Mast Yard and see if the patterns detected in 2008-12 still held, being particularly curious about a large cut that occurred in the winter of 2013. Thus she gathered a cadre of new and old volunteers, and spent May through July mapping out whip-poor-will locations in the state forest.

Eastern Whip-poor-will. Photo by allaboutbirds.org.

Eastern Whip-poor-will. Photo by allaboutbirds.org.

These volunteers were especially critical during two weeks of peak activity in late May and early June. When all the data was put through analysis, the overall pattern from the original study was still present. One bird had settled into the thinned area mentioned earlier, while two had taken up residence in the larger cut. Two additional whip-poor-wills adjacent to the large cut may have been responding to a cut from back in 2011, or perhaps were attracted to the birds in the new cut, but without territory data from the intervening years it’s impossible to say for sure.

These five “new” territories brought the site total up to a record high of 17 for the Mast Yard State Forest (it ranged from 8-11 previously). The pattern of preference for open areas of forest was maintained, and the high activity in the new cut strongly suggests that larger openings are more valuable that smaller ones. All this information can be taken into consideration by landowners who might want to manage habitat for this declining species.

At the same time, Diane De Luca and Laura Deming, both Senior Biologists for NH Audubon, conducted similar surveys on a parcel of land owned by the Army National Guard in Pembroke. This area is adjacent to the Concord airport, and thus within another area known to support a large whip-poor-will population. Most of the site is mixed pine-hardwood forest, but there is a small patch of pitch pine at the northern end and a powerline corridor running down the east side.

The National Guard wanted to know how many whip-poor-wills were at the site and where they were located, so Diane and Laura, both Senior Biologists for NH Audubon, used the mapping protocol developed at Mast Yard and estimated that 6-7 birds used the site in 2015. They were focused (as predicted!) in the pitch pine and along the powerline. The Guard will use this information when planning management and training activity at the property.