Species At Risk

Eastern Whip-poor-will

(Caprimulgus vociferus)
Whip-poor-will range map


The Eastern Whip-poor-will is a medium-sized bird 22 to 26 centimetres long with mottled brown and grey feathers that help it blend in with its surroundings. Since it becomes active at dusk and rests during the day, it is more commonly heard than seen.

Eastern Whip-poor-wills are most vocal during bright, moonlit nights when they can be heard singing their name “Whip-poor-will” often in long, seemingly endless series.

Action we are taking:


The Eastern Whip-poor-will’s breeding range includes two widely separate areas. It breeds throughout much of eastern North America, reaching as far north as southern Canada and also from the southwest United States to Honduras. In Canada, the Whip-poor-will can be found from east-central Saskatchewan to central Nova Scotia and in Ontario they breed as far north as the shore of Lake Superior.

Although Eastern Whip-poor-wills were once widespread throughout the central Great Lakes region of Ontario, their distribution in this area is now fragmented. The Whip-poor-will migrates to Mexico and Central America, where it stays throughout the cold Canadian winter.


The Eastern Whip-poor-will is usually found in areas with a mix of open and forested areas, such as savannahs, open woodlands or openings in more mature, deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests. It forages in these open areas and uses forested areas for roosting (resting and sleeping) and nesting. It lays its eggs directly on the forest floor, where its colouring means it will easily remain undetected by visual predators.


Although there is some uncertainty surrounding the decline of the Eastern Whip-poor-will, the main threat to the species is likely habitat loss and degradation. The habitat loss is a result of natural changes when open fields and thickets become closed forest in the north, and intensive agriculture in the south.

Additional threats include car mortalities and changes in food supply related to pesticides. Nest predators, including feral cats, are likely a threat in the highly populated southwest part of the province.


The Eastern Whip-poor-will is a threatened species and receives automatic species protection under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. General habitat protection also protects the species’ habitat from damage and destruction. A recovery strategy and a species-specific habitat regulation are being developed

The Eastern Whip-poor-will was assessed as a threatened species nationally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

What You Can Do to Help the Whip-poor-will

  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • As with all wildlife, don’t disturb or harass the birds or nesting sites. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Whip-poor-will. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find an Eastern Whip-poor-will or nest on your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.

Did you know?

In an attempt to discourage predators, adults fake injuries and lead predators away from the nest.

Did you know?

The Whip-poor-will has large, well adapted eyes for seeing at night when they are active and are looking for food.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.