Cover photos credit: United States Army Corps of Engineers (all photos)



“Threatened” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it.

Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List

September 10, 2009

What it looks like

The Eastern Whip-poor-will is a medium-sized bird 22 to 26 centimetres long with mottled brown and grey feathers that help it blend in with its surroundings. Since it becomes active at dusk and rests during the day, it is more commonly heard than seen.

Eastern Whip-poor-wills are most vocal during bright, moonlit nights when they can be heard singing their name "Whip-poor-will" often in long, seemingly endless series.

Where it lives

The Eastern Whip-poor-will is usually found in areas with a mix of open and forested areas, such as savannahs, open woodlands or openings in more mature, deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests.

It forages in these open areas and uses forested areas for roosting (resting and sleeping) and nesting.

It lays its eggs directly on the forest floor, where its colouring means it will easily remain undetected by visual predators.

Where it’s been found in Ontario

The Eastern Whip-poor-will’s breeding range includes two widely separate areas. It breeds throughout much of eastern North America, reaching as far north as southern Canada and also from the southwest United States to Honduras.

In Canada, the Whip-poor-will can be found from east-central Saskatchewan to central Nova Scotia and in Ontario they breed as far north as the shore of Lake Superior.

Although Eastern Whip-poor-wills were once widespread throughout the central Great Lakes region of Ontario, their distribution in this area is now fragmented. The Whip-poor-will migrates to Mexico and Central America, where it stays throughout the cold Canadian winter.

map of eastern whip-poor-will range

View a larger version of this map (PDF)

What threatens it

Although there is some uncertainty surrounding the decline of the Eastern Whip-poor-will, the main threat to the species is likely habitat loss and degradation.

The habitat loss is a result of natural changes when open fields and thickets become closed forest in the north, and intensive agriculture in the south.

Additional threats include car mortalities and changes in food supply related to pesticides. Nest predators, including feral cats, are likely a threat in the highly populated southwest part of the province.

Action we are taking

Threatened Species and their general habitat are automatically protected.

Recovery strategy

A recovery strategy advises the ministry on ways to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario.

Read the executive summary and the full document (December 5, 2019).

Government response statement

A government response statement outlines the actions the government intends to take or support to help recover the species.

Read the government response statement (September 8, 2020)

Habitat protection

General habitat descriptions are technical, science-based documents that provide greater clarity on the area of habitat protected for a species.

Read the general habitat description (July 2, 2013)

What you can do

Report a Sighting

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tracks species at risk such as the Eastern whip-poor-will. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.


  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Be a good steward

  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find Eastern whip-poor-will nesting on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • As with all wildlife, don't disturb or harass the birds or nesting sites. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit:

Report illegal activity

  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).

Quick facts

  • In an attempt to discourage predators, adults fake injuries and lead predators away from the nest.
  • The Whip-poor-will has large, well adapted eyes for seeing at night when they are active and are looking for food.