The nighttime song of the Eastern Whip-poor-will was once far more familiar to NH residents than it is today, and “where are all the whip-poor-wills” is one of the most frequently asked questions at bird talks given by NH Audubon staff. Because of range-wide declines of roughly 50%, NH Audubon spearheaded efforts to develop a monitoring protocol in the early 2000s, and this protocol is now in use throughout the species’ range in eastern North America. We have been coordinating volunteer monitoring along 18 survey routes since 2007, and the good news is that, in NH at least, the number of whip-poor-wills appears to be going up!
A frequently proposed reason for whip-poor-will declines is the loss of open forest and edge habitats. To further investigate this relationship NH Audubon conducted a detailed habitat study from 2008-2012 at sites in the Upper Merrimack Valley and Ossipee Pine Barrens. Using a combination of radio telemetry and triangulation on calling birds we were able to map out territories and determine what sorts of habitats the birds preferred. The results were quite clear: whip-poor-wills were far more likely to occupy regenerating cuts, burned areas, partially harvested stands, and similar open habitats than mature unmanaged forest. This research led to the development of best management practices for Eastern Whip-poor-wills. It’s even possible that the increasing numbers we see in NH are the result of past management for other species such as American Woodcock, and time will tell whether whip-poor-wills continue to do well in the Granite State.
Extra-territorial Movements by Eastern Whip-poor-wills (North American Bird Bander, Jul-Sep 2016, p.97-102)
Photos: Whip-poor-will in Hopkinton, by Pam Hunt (top); holding a Whip-poor-will for measurements, by Pam Hunt (circle).