When I opened the car door this morning at the starting point for the Cunard Route and heard 2 of these wonderful goatsuckers, I knew that I already had my bird for the day selected. Just before the 3-minute period ended, a third bird joined the chorus. I've enjoyed hearing them since childhood in southern Ohio. As many as 3 (most nights only 1) singing birds used the roof of our house as their singing perch during the hot summer nights in May and June. I enjoyed hearing my school chums and our relatives complain about them at breakfast following an overnight stay.
But what is happening to the population of the Whip-poor-will? I vividly remember Sam Robbins taking W-p-w questions when he appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio. Now, Bill Volkert and I receive the same W-p-w questions when we join Larry Meiller or Jim Packard for WPR radio programs. Sam was concerned then; I'm concerned now. I certainly don't hear them singing in locations in WI where I did during the late 1970s and 1980s. Most summers, I could hear them routinely from my home in westcentral Ozaukee Co. The one that Seth heard from our property during migration this year was the first in probably 15 years.
The BBS data provide some confirmation of this observation - annual declines of 5.5% and 5.4% since 1980 in WI and MI! Across the US the annual trend is a statistically significant 2.3% decline since 1966. Biologists have offered some suggestions for what is causing this decline, but we really don't know. Suggestions for the decline have ranged from increased growth or density of shrub understory, especially by invasive woody species, to less grazing of woodlots by cattle. Let's hope that we can learn enough to reverse this decline, and it is for questions that need answering like this that we all need to provide greater support for bird conservation efforts.