Thunder Bay·Audio

MNR tracks threatened Eastern Whip-poor-will

There's a good chance you've never seen an Eastern Whip-poor-will, but you may have heard its call.

Public asked to help track the bird's whereabouts in northwestern Ontario

The Eastern Whip-poor-will, named for its distinctive call, is declining in numbers across Ontario. (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is asking people for help tracking the whereabouts of the threatened Eastern Whip-poor-will in northwestern Ontario.

There's a good chance you've never spotted a Whip-poor-will, but you may have heard its call.

The small, mottled-brown bird is named for its distinctive song. It's also well-camouflaged and nocturnal, with a particular fondness for brightly moonlit nights.

"When we go out and do surveys, folks would go out at night and drive along roads and simply get out of the vehicle and listen for that call," said Peter Addison, a species-at-risk specialist with the MNR in Thunder Bay.

"That's how we would figure out where they are and how many there might be in an area."

Addison says the Whip-poor-will population has been declining for several decades, at a rate of about three per cent each year in Ontario.

For the past four years MNR offices in the northwest have collected information about the birds in an effort to learn more about where they are nesting, so that those areas can be protected.

"They're a very interesting small bird."

Eastern Whip-poor-will are more common in the Kenora and Fort Frances areas than Thunder Bay, and when it comes to habitat, they're picky.

The birds require forested habitat for nesting (they lay their camouflaged eggs right on the forest floor), but also open areas for feeding.

"Things like old farmland are areas that would be occupied by them," said Addison. "That jackpine and open rocky areas out toward Kenora. That as well would be prime habitat."

Addison said it's not clear just why Whip-poor-will numbers are dwindling, but loss of habitat might be one reason. Pesticide use may also be killing off the insects the birds depend on for food. 

Public encouraged to report bird encounters

Those who hear the Eastern Whip-poor-will can call their district MNR office, said Addison.

People who would like to do surveys themselves can also contact Bird Studies Canada. That organization has been tracking the birds with the help of volunteers for several years, through its Ontario Whip-poor-will project.

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