By Cheryl Conley, TWRC Wildlife Center
A few years ago, when I took my dog out for her last potty of the night, I heard the most beautiful bird singing. Just a few seconds later, another bird responded with the same beautiful song. I had no idea what species it was but after some research I learned it was a whippoorwill. The whippoorwill actually got its name because of its song—three syllables with emphasis on the first and last syllables.
Whippoorwills are nocturnal. They feed exclusively on insects and start foraging 30 minutes after sunset and continue until it’s too dark to see. They continue their foraging at first light and stop just before sunrise. If the moon is bright, they may hunt all night. They have large mouths and can swallow insects up to 2 inches long.
The most interesting fact about the whippoorwill is that they don’t build a nest. The female will lay her eggs on the ground and cover with dead leaves or debris. Often times she’ll find a spot on the north or northeast side of a shrub or plant so she’s shaded during the heat of the day. Mom is responsible for incubating the eggs during the day and both Mom and Dad share the duty at night.
Amazingly, whippoorwills time their breeding patterns to coincide with the lunar cycles so that the eggs hatch when there is at least a half moon. It is believed that the extra light helps in caring for her young. Within 24 hours of hatching, the baby birds instinctively move apart. The parents will also push the babies to keep them apart. It is thought that this is done to make it harder for predators to see them.
The male stands guard over the nest and will hiss and spread his wings if he thinks there is a predator nearby. Another tactic used to protect the young is he will fake an injury away from the babies to draw attention away from them. While he draws the predator away from the young, the babies scatter and freeze.
At about 8 days, the down-covered babies molt and the female leaves them in the care of the male. If conditions are right, the female will often find a spot nearby and lay 2 more eggs.
TWRC Wildlife Center cares for injured, orphaned and displaced wildlife brought to us by the public. Due to the Corona Virus, we’ve had to alter our admission procedures. If you find an animal needing help, please call us. We will advise you on how to care for the animal until you can bring it to us: 713-468-8972