OTHER NAMES: Whip-poor-will, dutch Whip-poor-will, chuck
STATUS: Breeder. Common in spring, summer, and fall, and occasional in winter in Gulf Coast region. In other regions, common in spring, summer, and fall. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.
DESCRIPTION: Chuck-will’s-widows (Caprimulgus carolinensis) are fairly large, nocturnal birds well known for singing their name repeatedly at dusk. They are nearly twice the size of the closely related whip-poor-will, weighing between 2.3 and 6.6 ounces. They are very well camouflaged, having overall reddish brown plumage with streaks of black and gray. Males have white borders on the inner webs of the outer tail feathers and a narrow white line below their buff colored throats. Areas which are white on males are pale buff colored on females. When flushed from the ground in the woods, these birds can usually be identified by their large size, and, if seen from the front, by their buffy throats. This species can, however, best be recognized by the call for which it was named. This calls is likened to a loud “Chuck-will’s-widow!”, with the first “chuck” somewhat faint (and inaudible at a distance). Non-birders often confuse this species call with that of the Whip-poor-will.
DISTRIBUTION: Chuck-will’s-widows are common during the summer in the northern mountains of Alabama. They are most often found at altitudes above 1,000 feet, but also occur in nearby valleys down to 600 feet elevation. Although few documented breeding records exist from Alabama, the species undoubtedly breeds in June wherever it occurs. They are common to fairly common during the winter in sandy areas near the Gulf Coast and are rare to uncommon during migration across the rest of the state.
HABITAT: In Alabama, Chuck-will’s-widows seem to prefer woodlands that contain oaks and pines, and, in hilly country, may be found in bottoms and thickets along branches.
FEEDING HABITS: Chuck-will’s-widows consume a wide variety of insects and have been reported to eat small birds and bats (usually during migration). They commonly eat moths, mosquitoes, caddis flies, and a host of other flying insects. Foraging is done mostly while in flight except during the summer molting period when they cannot fly. During this time, their diet includes grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, ants, and beetles obtained from the ground or under decaying bark.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Chuck-will’s-widows raise only one brood each year, but have been know to replace as many as 3 lost clutches of eggs. They do not construct a nest, but usually lay 2 eggs directly on pine needles or leaf litter on the forest floor. Chuck-will’s-widow eggs are pink or buff with brown, purple or gray marks, and are incubated for 20-24 days. The chicks fledge in about 17 days.
Imhof, T.A. 1976. Alabama Birds, Second edition. Univ. Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL. 445 pp.
Straight, C.A., and R.J. Cooper. 2000. Chuck-will’s-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis). In The Birds of North America, No. 499 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds). The Birds of NorthAmerica, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
AUTHOR: Mark S. Sasser, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries