Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Chuck-will's-widow - Antrostomus carolinensis
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General Comments This strictly nocturnal species is a characteristic breeding bird of our drier forest edges and open woods of the Coastal Plain and lower Piedmont. The Chuck-will's-widow appears to be gradually spreading farther inland as a breeder: in recent years, the reports in late spring and summer are expanding to the west (due to global warming?), and even into a few foothill and low mountain sites. Whether the species is actually displacing the declining Whip-poor-will, or is simply expanding on its own without regard to the latter species, is not clear. Chuck-will's-widows nest mostly in drier pine and mixed pine-hardwood stands, generally not far from edges or openings; it is not a bird of moist or otherwise dense forests. It is a characteristic bird of Sandhills woodlands. There are a few winter records, essentially near the coast, but whether the species normally overwinters in the state is uncertain. This and most other goatsucker species are declining globally owing to noticeable declines of flying insects owing to pesticides and other issues.

NOTE: The genus name was changed from Caprimulgus to Antrostomus in 2012.

Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status W
U.S. Status
State Rank S5B
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Breeding summer resident, and occasional winter visitor; apparently slowly declining. Generally common in the warmer months over most of the region, even in some portions of the Outer Banks (where there are suitable forested habitats). Likely more numerous in the southern portions, and slightly less common near the Virginia border, where mostly fairly common. Mainly early Apr into Sep or early Oct, but as it is mostly quiet after midsummer, normal departure dates are difficult to determine. At least 13 winter records, all but one from the coast; two or three involve photographs, as separation of Chuck-will's-widow from Whip-poor-will by sight only can be tricky. Whether these Dec-Jan birds make it through the winter is uncertain, but there is a specimen from North Topsail Beach on 22 Feb 1992 [Chat 57:19 link]. Peak counts: ?
Piedmont Breeding summer resident. Fairly common but somewhat declining in the extreme eastern and southern portions of the province, uncommon in the central portion, and rare and of spotty occurrence in the northwestern and foothill portions, though perhaps nests in nearly all counties. Mainly early or mid-Apr into (late?) Sep. No reports known after Sep. Peak counts: 25, Jordan Lake spring count, 7 May 2000;
Mountains Seemingly increasing in recent years. Probable breeding summer resident in very low elevation areas, mainly in the southern half of the mountains. Recently reported in the breeding season near Hot Springs and Mars Hill in Madison, at sites mostly below 2,000 feet; and also at Ela (Swain) and northwestern Jackson. There are now a handful of summer eBird records in Jun and Jul from Cherokee, Clay, and Macon. There are three spring (Apr-May) records from Transylvania, but these might be of migrants or wandering birds, and there appear to be very few nesting season reports from the heavily worked Buncombe/Henderson/Transylvania area. One heard at Valle Crucis (Watauga) on 21 May 2006 is exceptional for the northern mountains. However, the species might now be breeding at low elevations in the northern counties, as evidenced by two heard singing along Mount Zion Road in eastern Watauga on 9 May 2023. Peak counts: two.
Finding Tips Hearing this species is seldom a problem. Simply, drive around a little bit after dusk, or before dawn, preferably in the Coastal Plain. They are certainly common in many counties in that province, especially in the southern counties. Seeing one can be a problem. The best method is to drive along dirt roads, or very poorly used paved roads, that pass through pine or mixed woods; look for eyeshine in the headlights of the car. You might try to stalk up to a calling bird at night, with a flashlight, or try to call one in to a tape. If you try to find one by walking through forests during the day, you might flush one, but you probably won't find it again.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-08-09], LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.