• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Night Bird

Air Date: Week of

Eastern Whip-poor-wills are not technically songbirds, but their calls function as a song. (Photo: Laura Gooch, Flickr CC)

Most songbirds sing during the daylight hours, but it’s the Eastern Whip-poor-will that comes alive as the sun sets. BirdNote’s Michael Stein reads Henry David Thoreau’s account of the lovely nightjar bird’s song and notes how habitat loss is causing the population’s decline.



CURWOOD: A bird who relishes the dark cover of the US forests is the star of today’s BirdNote, and the shrinking of those forests is having noticeable effects because it relies on tree cover to nest. Here’s Michael Stein.

Eastern Whip-poor-will – Bird of the Night Side of the Woods
[Whip-poor-will song throughout]
In September of 1851, Henry David Thoreau wrote:
“The Whip-poor-wills now begin to sing in earnest about half an hour before sunrise, as if making haste to improve the short time that is left them.
[Whip-poor-will song]

Eastern Whip-poor-wills have brindled plumage, which camouflages them well amongst dead leaves and tree bark. (Photo: Jerry Oldenettel, Flickr CC)

…They sing for several hours in the early part of the night, then sing again just before sunrise.”
Clearly and continuously, the bird announces its name [Whip-poor-will song].
In summer to early fall, Eastern Whip-poor-wills breed in woodlands of eastern North America. Their camouflaged plumage blends seamlessly with dead leaves on the forest floor. At dawn and dusk and all through moonlit nights, whip-poor-wills sally out from tree branches to hawk flying insects.
Woodland habitat has greatly diminished for Eastern Whip-poor-wills, as forests become more fragmented. The National Audubon Society lists them among the Top 20 Common Birds in Decline. Protecting and restoring large expanses of forest are crucial for many forest species, including the whip-poor-will.
[Whip-poor-will song and crickets]
It remains, as Thoreau described: “…a bird . . . of the night side of the woods, where you may hear the whip-poor-will in your dreams.”
I'm Michael Stein.

Eastern Whip-poor-wills are part of a bird classification called nightjars. This group is known to be active during the late evening, night and early morning. (Photo: Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0)


Written by Frances Wood; revised by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Song of the Whip-poor-will (Eastern) [84871] recorded by W.L. Hershberger. BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producers: Chris Peterson/Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org September 2015 Narrator: Michael Stein



Whip-poor-wills on BirdNote®

More about Whip-poor-wills on All About Birds

Whip-poor-wills on Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth