April 24, 2022
Whip-poor-will song woke me at dawn this day after Earth Day, reminding me that all is not yet lost. According to ebird.org, the Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus) is a cryptic night bird, more often heard than seen as it endlessly repeats its namesake call. It is can be found in forests, such as the one outside my bedroom window, with a mixture of pines and deciduous trees with open areas nearby for foraging. At night these birds forage on the ground for flying insects.
Whip-poor-wills are no longer common, as they once were, with their status now listed as ‘Nearly Threatened.’ The organization All About Birds reports they are doing poorly throughout most of their range. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimated a 69% drop in their numbers between 1966 and 2010. There is no surplus population anywhere from which to take individuals to reintroduce, and they, like most nightjars, are exceptionally difficult to maintain in captivity, so it would be hard to raise individuals for a reintroduction project.
They really are in trouble. Why? Since these birds are insect-eaters, I’m pretty sure our civilization’s war on insects may have reduced their food supply, but experts say we don’t yet know the full story. Until scientists work out exactly why they are declining, it’s difficult to determine how to restore their populations.
So, how can I help? A Google search led me to the United States Nightjar Survey Network, a citizen-science project of the Center for Conservation Biology. They are recruiting individuals to collect survey data nationwide in an effort to help researchers figure out what is going on. Volunteers choose a route with 10 stops to survey once per year. The website provides instructions and data sheets and lets volunteers enter data and review past data. This year’s survey dates are listed for four time-windows between April and July. I can participate in Window 2 (nationwide) 8-22 May. Survey species include nightjars, nighthawks, whip-poor-wills, common poorwills, and more. Can you help, too?
Photo credit: birdsoftheworld.org