Whip-poor-will - Central Park - 4/24/2004

Images and text copyright © Phil Jeffrey 2004-2010 but as always freely available for personal use

This (Eastern) Whip-poor-will was found in the Ramble in Central Park by Leslie Beebe, just south of "Mugger's Woods" and attracted a great deal of attention during the day. (Note: Whip-poor-will was split into Eastern Whip-poor-will and Arizona Whip-poor-will in 2010 by AOU). Opinions initially wavered as to it's ID. Factors favoring it as a Chuck-wills-widow included:

However not all of us felt that the bird was quite large enough to be a Chuck-wills-widow. A perusal of web images suggest that the black throat may not be universally prominent either. Toward lunchtime Sandy Spitalnik turned up with more useful ID guides that made the bird an obvious Whip-poor-will:

The latter is more an application of Occam's Razor than an actual ID point, although the voice is perhaps the single biggest ID mark of all.

I'm fairly unimpressed by the representation in Sibley, which seems to gloss over the bill color. I personally have zero hesitation calling this bird an Eastern Whip-poor-will, even though Chuck-wills-widow would be a life bird for me.

My photos below are not definitive for the ID of the bird, which was best analysed through good optics (and Art Lemoine's spotting scope) but do give you an idea of the aspect of the bird and the overall color which tended to grayer brown than rufous brown. The non-Nighthawk nightjars (Pauraques, Poorwills, Whip-poor-will) all have big heads, so it's more of a question of "how big is big".

Whip-poor-will in Manhattan A fairly typical side-view emphasizing the relatively small head, and projection of the tail past the primaries. In this small version of the image it's not obvious that the bill is all gray so.....

Whip-poor-will close up of the bill Here's a close-up of the bill from the same image (this one not color corrected - just sharpened in Photoshop). You can see it's all dark gray.

Whip-poor-will Similar view that shows the undertail slightly more clearly.

Whip-poor-will Taken from the front, below. Here I've dropped the contrast a little to preserve some detail in the area under the tail.

Other pictures of Chuck-wills-widow and Whip-poor-will on the internet include: These photos at the very least emphasize the relative flatness and sheer size of the head in Chuck-wills-widow, and the variability of the black throat in Whip-poor-will.

Phil Jeffrey, April 2004