It’s a sound many West Virginians remember hearing on warm summer nights, a lilting three-note whistle that instantly revealed the identity of the bird that made it:
It’s a sound heard much less frequently nowadays. Wildlife habitat has changed, and whip-poor-wills haven’t been able to adapt. State wildlife officials are asking the public to help find out where the birds have gone and how abundant they still might be.
“Between now and July 31, we want people who hear or see whip-poor-wills to call us and let us know,” said Rich Bailey, ornithologist for the state Division of Natural Resources. “The information we collect will give us a much better idea of whip-poor-wills’ distribution throughout the state.”
Bailey expects most of the reports to come from people who have heard the birds’ distinctive call.
“Whip-poor-wills are secretive, nocturnal and are very well camouflaged, so we don’t expect to get many sightings,” he said. “But the call is one that almost everyone will instantly recognize.”
Information collected from the public will be incorporated into the next edition of the West Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas.
“We suspect the data will show that whip-poor-wills aren’t distributed as widely throughout the state as they used to be,” Bailey said. “Based on information we gathered last spring and summer, they’ve just about disappeared in the Northern Panhandle. They appear to be most abundant in the Eastern Panhandle and in west-central counties such as Ritchie, Wirt, Jackson and Putnam.”
Bailey said he received roughly 500 e-mails in the first few days after appealing to the public for whip-poor-will information.
“Last year we got about 1,000 responses to a similar request, and we’re on pace to do better than that this year,” he said. “The more responses we get, the better we’ll be able to pinpoint where the birds are and where they aren’t.”
People who wish to report hearing the birds should e-mail Bailey at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The e-mails should contain the date and location where the bird was heard or seen, the reporter’s name and phone number, and whether the bird was seen or heard.
“Folks who report seeing or hearing whip-poor-wills at a certain location don’t need to report from that location more than once,” Bailey said.
DNR officials are also interesting in hearing from people who have seen barn owls or know the location of a bald eagle’s nest. Those observations should also be e-mailed to Bailey.