Ontario Whip-poor-will Project

There is good evidence that Whip-poor-will populations in Ontario and elsewhere are in decline. As a result, this species has recently been designated as Threatened in Canada (COSEWIC 2009, SARA listing pending) and Ontario (SARO 2009). The causes of the Whip-poor-will population declines are unknown, but habitat change is presumed to be the main threat. In addition, changes in food supply have been identified as a potential common factor driving population declines in many diverse species of aerial-foraging insectivorous birds. Increased mortality due to vehicle collisions and nest predation by feral cats and raccoons are also of concern for Whip-poor-wills.

As a result of the Ontario breeding bird atlases, we have a fairly good knowledge of the general breeding distribution of this species in Ontario. Whip-poor-wills are widespread in central Ontario, but occur only locally in northern Ontario and southwestern Ontario. Because Whip-poor-wills are rarely detected on standard breeding bird surveys, we know little about their relative abundance or population trends.

Before we can identify the factors driving recent Whip-poor-will population declines, many questions must be answered. Volunteers can provide good information on the species' current distribution and abundance. This species is an ideal target for a volunteer survey because of its distinctive call, which can be heard for long distances.

The Ontario Whip-poor-will Project is expected to be a five-year project that will engage volunteers in various surveys to investigate where Whip-poor-wills occur in Ontario. The results of these surveys will be used to help direct the research needed to answer the larger question of what is happening to Ontario's Whip-poor-will populations.

We are gathering data using two approaches:

Casual Observation: Birders, cottagers, and rural residents are asked to report all Whip-poor-will sightings (hearings) to eBbird Canada (www.ebird.ca), or using the online reporting form (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ONWPW2012), or by email to volunteer@birdscanada.org.

Roadside Surveys in Known Whip-poor-will Hotspots: Roadside Whip-poor-will Surveys in 2010 and 2011 identified several hotspots for this species in Central Ontario, as well as many dead zones. Roadside surveys are being continued in the hotspots only.

Other Surveys: Volunteers are needed to run roadside survey routes located across Ontario. These driving routes are surveyed once a year during specific survey windows in May or June. Surveys must be run on calm, clear nights when a bright moon is visible.

Survey protocols and data forms are available on the project webpage at: www.birdscanada.org/birdmon/wpwi.

To volunteer, contact:
Kathy Jones, Volunteer Coordinator, volunteer@birdscanada.org, 1-888-448-2473 ext. 124

For more information on the Ontario Whip-poor-will Project, contact:
Audrey Heagy, Project Coordinator, aheagy@birdscanada.org, 1-888-448-2473 ext. 166

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