Eastern Whip-poor-will abundance declines with urban land cover and increases with moth abundance in the American Midwest

Ian Souza-Cole, Michael P Ward, Rebecca L Mau, Jeffrey T Foster, Thomas J Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Populations of avian aerial insectivores have declined across North America. A leading factor hypothesized to be driving these trends is a decline in prey populations, although a loss of suitable habitat on the landscape or other factors may also play a role. The Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus; hereafter: whip-poor-will) is an aerial insectivorous nightjar that has disappeared from many of its historic breeding locations. We investigated the role that food availability and land cover at multiple scales play in whip-poor-will distribution by estimating their abundance at 23 sites across central Illinois. To do this, we conducted nocturnal point counts to estimate whip-poor-will abundance and collected nocturnal insects using UV-light traps at these sites to quantify potential food abundance. Additionally, we described whip-poor-will diet using DNA metabarcoding of fecal samples. We found that the number of large moths at a site had a positive effect on the abundance of whip-poor-wills, aligning with our diet analysis which identified moths as the primary prey item for this species (present in 92% of samples). Whip-poor-wills also showed an affinity for forest edges, but only when edges were associated with high moth abundances. Conversely, developed land-cover in landscapes surrounding sites led to decreased whip-poor-will abundance. Given the continued expansion of developed areas, coupled with concerning trends in moth populations, declines in the abundance of this species may continue. Efforts should be made to protect and sustain moth populations and the impacts of development should be scrutinized in the pursuit of conserving whip-poor-wills.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberduac032
JournalOrnithological Applications
Issue number4
Early online dateAug 26 2022
StatePublished - Nov 3 2022


  • abundance
  • aerial insectivore
  • insects
  • metabarcoding
  • nightjar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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