Plants and Animals

Antrostomus vociferus Eastern whip-poor-will

Key Characteristics

The eastern whip-poor-will is a medium-sized, well-camouflaged bird with large eyes and a stout chest. When in flight is has long slender pointy wings. Visually it is nearly identical to the common nighthawk and is most readily differentiated from the former by its behavior and characteristic call – “whip-poor-will”. This nocturnal bird is more often heard than seen as it remains motionless and sleeping throughout the day.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Alger 1 2022
Crawford 3 2023
Kalamazoo 1 2014
Kalkaska 1 2022
Newaygo 2 2011
Oceana 3 2022
Otsego 1 2023

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Eastern whip-poor-wills occur in many different forest habitats. A key factor in their habitat selection is the degree of openness in the forest understory. They appear to favor forests with more open understory and forests with occasional openings (bog, fen, shrub-carr, savanna etc.).

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Maintain large blocks of mature fire-adapted forest and use prescribed burns to maintain an open understory. In areas with a high invasive species component, mechanical removal of invasives may also be necessary. Forest openings are important to whip-poor-wills for foraging and creating occasional openings will likely benefit this species. Eastern whip-poor-wills are strictly insectivorous birds and the effects of pesticides on flying insects greatly impacts their food availability. Avoid pesticide application in and adjacent to areas being managed for whip-poor-wills.

Active Period

Breeding from third week of May to first week of July

Migration from second week of September to second week of October

Migration from first week of May to third week of May

Survey Methods

Conduct nocturnal point counts, transects, or roadside surveys in suitable habitat listening for the distinctive song.

Listen for call at observation points

Survey Period: From fourth week of May to first week of July

Time of Day: Night


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Bent, A.C. 1940. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 176. Life Histories of North American Cuckoos, goatsuckers, hummingbrids and their allies Orders Psittaciformes, Cuculiformes, Trogoniformes, Coraciiformes, Caprimulgiformes and Micropodiiformes. United States Government Printing Office Washington.
  • Brewer, R., G. A. McPeek, and R. J. Adams Jr., eds. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing. 650pp.