Eastern Whip-poor-will in Carden

Ron Pittaway

First published in Toronto Ornithological Club Newsletter, January 2019, No 283.

Photo by Jean Iron


The Carden Alvar is one of the best spots in Ontario to hear Eastern Whip-poor-wills. Listening to Whip-poor-wills on moonlit nights far away from human lights and sounds is enchanting.

SONG: The male Whip-poor-willís loud 3-syllable whip-poor-WILL song is accented (loudest) on the third syllable. The song is so distinctive that even non-birders recognize it. One bird was counted singing 1088 times without pausing at the rate of one call per second. They sing from the ground, low horizontal bare branches and fence posts.

HABITAT: Whip-poor-wills inhabit deciduous, coniferous and mixed forest types. Breeding habitat is dependent on woodland structure instead of tree species. Prime nesting habitat is dry semi-open and patchy woodlands with clearings, providing daytime cover and nighttime openings for hawking moths (preferred prey) and beetles. It avoids closed canopy forests and large open areas.

STATUS: The Eastern Whip-poor-will has declined over 60% since 1970. It is listed as Threatened in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Causes of the decline on the breeding grounds are maturing forests, regrowth of openings, intensive agriculture, urbanization, and fewer night flying insects. Determining causes on the wintering grounds in Central America is more difficult, but pesticides and rampant deforestation for agriculture are key factors.

WHEN: The ideal time to hear Whip-poor-wills is mid-May to mid-July. On dark moonless nights, they sing only for a short period just after dusk and just before dawn. When the moon is bright, they sing more and for longer periods into the night. A full moon is best when they may be heard all night. Choose a calm, clear, warm night above 10į C.

BEST PLACES: Whip-poor-wills are normally easily heard near the Sedge Wren Marsh on Wylie Road and along Alvar Road just east of Sugar Bush Road. However, if you hunger for a night adventure, you can hear up to a dozen Whip-poor-wills on either of the two following routes, but I caution you to check road conditions by day before going at night. (1) From Sedge Wren Marsh drive north 6.6 km to the Carden T at Alvar Road. (2) Or from Lake Dalrymple Road go east 4.7 km on Alvar Road to Wylie Road. Stop at intervals to listen and watch for Whip-poor-wills sitting on the road. Their bright orange-red eyes glow like live coals in car headlights. You also will hear Common Nighthawks calling overhead and experience their spectacular booming nosedives.

ACCOMMODATION: To increase your night birding time in Carden, I recommend staying nearby overnight. The Lake Dalrymple Resort has housekeeping cottages and the Best Western Hotel in Orillia is excellent.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank Michel Gosselin for proofing and Jean Iron for the photo.