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Open Access Thesis
Master of Science (M.S.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
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 habitat, such as early-successional habitats or forest edges. Population declines of other early-successional bird species have been attributed to the loss of early-successional disturbance-dependent habitats in the northeast, and it has been suggested that habitat loss is a significant factor in whip-poor-will population declines, as well. However, there remain substantial gaps in our understanding of whip-poor-will habitat associations, and quantitative habitat data in the literature are lacking. As forest management plays an important role in creating and maintaining habitat for many disturbance-dependent bird species, further characterization of whip-poor-will habitat preferences is necessary to determine whether management efforts may benefit this species as well. In order to derive quantitative estimates of habitat requirements, I studied whip-poor-will habitat associations at Fort Drum in upstate New York.
In 2015 and 2016, whip-poor-wills were surveyed at night at randomly-selected point count locations and vegetation measurements were collected in the point count radii to relate whip-poor-will occupancy with structural and compositional habitat variables. Whip-poor-will occupancy was strongly related to intermediate amounts of basal area, with values that generally correspond to forest denser than most shrublands, but more open than closed-canopy forest. Occupancy was also related to lower understory height values, which supports evidence that whip-poor-wills may prefer habitat with a relatively open understory.
In 2016, I also measured habitat at locations where whip-poor-wills were foraging, roosting, and nesting, to investigate the theory that whip-poor-wills require open habitat for foraging, but more closed habitat for nesting. Ten adult whip-poor-wills were tracked using radio telemetry and vegetation measurements were collected at a subset at these points where the birds were either foraging 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 conventional thought, the few nest sites found in this study were in areas that had low basal area, similar to the habitat at foraging locations. The results suggest that while 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.
In conclusion, I suggest that land owners looking to create or maintain suitable habitat for whip-poor-wills apply forest management treatments that create openings but still maintain intermediate levels of basal area, such as shelterwood or group tree selection. Foraging habitat for whip-poor-wills appears to be generally more open than roosting habitat, both in terms of lower basal area and a more open understory, so having areas where tree and understory removal is concentrated in proximity to areas that are denser may also benefit this species.
David I. King
Spiller, Kimberly, "Eastern Whip-poor-will Habitat Associations in Fort Drum, NY" (2019). Masters Theses. 797.