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Common Poorwill

Phalaenoptilus nuttallii

Length: 7 to 8 inches Wingspan: 11 to 13 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Short tail with white-tipped outer feathers, mottled gray-brown body, white band on throat, smaller than other nightjars.

Common Poorwill - Phalaenoptilus nuttalliiThe Common Poorwill is the smallest of the "nightjars" in North America, and is considered the western counterpart of the eastern Whip-poor-will.  The Hopi name for the Common Poorwill means "the sleeping one", as they are the only bird known to hibernate.  Some remain throughout the year in the Southwestern U.S., but in cold weather, they enter a hibernating state with a lowered body temperature, heartbeat, and rate of breathing.  They may stay in this state for days or weeks at a time.

Habitat: Can be found in a variety of dry open habitats, such as grassland with scattered shrubs, scrubby areas around dry open forests, desert canyons, and dry lowland hills and washes of the West.

Diet: Exclusively insects, especially moths, beetles, and other night-flying insects.

Behavior: Forages by observing from a low perch or on the ground, and flying up to catch flying insects that are passing by.  Primarily feeds near dawn and dusk.

Nesting: June

Song: Mournful whistle, poor-WILL, with the second note higher in pitch. 

Migration: Summers throughout the western half of the United States.  Winters in the extreme southwestern U.S. and points south.

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive eBird map of Common Poorwill sightings

Similar Species: Whip-poor-will

Conservation Status: Populations are generally stable throughout its range.

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Common Poorwill

2) WhatBird - Common Poorwill

3) Audubon Guide - Common Poorwill

Photo Information: Photo taken in North Cave Hills, Harding County by Doug Backlund.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Common Poorwill - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer resident in the western part of the state, accidental in the east.

Additional Common Poorwill Photos (coming soon!)