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Considered a rather aloof species, catching sight of the migratory whip-poor-will is pretty lucky. Though its appearance is owl-like, the whip-poor-will is actually from the Caprimulgidae family or nightjars. Nightjars are commonly medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular birds with long wings, short legs and very short bill.
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Whip-poor-wills have mottled grayish-brown plumage that resembles the coloring of the dead leaves it prefers to nest in on the open forest floor. Males are distinguished by their black throats separated from the breast by a neckband of white and white outer tail feathers. Females are thinner, with a more buff-colored neckband and lack the white on their rounded tail.
During the summer months, whip-poor-wills will head to eastern and southwestern Unites States to breed. Mates are found by its somewhat sad and seemingly endless call. As it is named onomatopoeically - meaning its name imitates or describes the call it makes, the bird's call is easy to catch. Not to mention that it is one of the few birds in Indiana that is active at night. So in tune is the whip-poor-will with the lunar cycle that it will lay its creamy white eggs so they will hatch about 10 days before a full moon. As aerial hunters who catch their insect prey in flight, this allows the adults to forage the entire night and aptly provide for their nestlings. Their erratic and mothlike flight is a spectacular sight if you are so lucky to catch the whip-poor-will in action.
Interesting Facts about Whip-poor-wills
- It's family name, Caprimulfidae, is Latin for "goat-milker." It was named so because it was believed that these birds would suck the milk from goats' udders and caused them to dry up.
- The longest number of calls recorded by a single bird is 1,088. This could be why the whip-poor-will scientific name is Caprimulgus vociferus (vociferous meaning "given to insistent outcry").
- Historians of all kinds – poets, songwriters and authors – have used the Whip-poor-will to symbolize natural disasters, imminent trouble and aching solitude. The more suspicious folklore even claimed that if the Whip-poor-will called at your doorstep that death was soon approaching.
- A group of whip-poor-wills are called a "seek" or "invisibility" of whip-poor-wills.
- Whip-poor-wills, like most nightjars, have small feet making walking rather awkward.
- Instead perching across a branch, the common whip-poor-will likes to perch along it which is quite unusual for birds.
- Whip-poor-wills are still sleepers that can easily surprise those that get too close to its nest. If threatened, the bird will call out loudly while hovering close to its eggs or hatchlings.
- These nightjars have stiff rictal bristles, or face-forward whiskers, whose function is unclear. Many believe these bristles help funnel food or protect their eyes while feeding.
Information found at WhatBird.com.