Foraging and roosting habitat of Eastern Whip-poor-wills in the northeastern United States

The Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus: hereafter whip-poor-will) has been declining from historical population levels throughout its range in the northeast. Although whip-poor-wills have been reported to use a variety of habitats, most recent studies have associated whip-poor-wills with open canopy habitats, such as early-successional habitats or forest edges. However, there remain substantial gaps in our understanding of whip-poor-wills’ habitat associations. For example, historical accounts state that whip-poor-wills roost and nest in forest and forage in openings, and thus, managers advocate the juxtaposition of habitats based on this supposition. Nevertheless, a quantitative evaluation of the habitat used for these activities is lacking. For this reason, we radio-tracked 10 adult whip-poor-wills using radio telemetry in upstate New York and collected vegetation measurements at a subset at these points where the birds were either foraging at night or roosting during the day, as well as at any identified nest sites. Comparisons of the vegetation measurements revealed that foraging habitat was significantly more open than roosting habitat, as foraging habitat had lower tree density, basal area, and understory height. Contrary to historical accounts, the few nest sites found in this study were located in areas that had low basal area, similar to the habitat at foraging locations. These results suggest that although creating more open canopy habitat may benefit whip-poor-wills by providing suitable foraging habitat, and potentially nesting habitat, maintaining denser forest within proximity to these open areas may also provide valuable cover for roosting whip-poor-wills.

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