Heritage Profiles of Mountain People

Choking Out The Whippoorwills

The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet 1925

This time of the year I start listening-hoping to hear the first Whippoorwill of the season. I grew up hearing Pap tell a story about the Whippoorwill.

In days gone by, the story was quite popular in our area-so popular a man once came to record the story-straight from the source as they say. Pap was lucky to hear the story from both-the source and the recording.

Old Man Jeff Dalrymple told the tale. He claimed to have been responsible for choking out  the Whippoorwills in Bellview(a local community). According to Pap, at one time, Whippoorwills were so plentiful, that fox hunters claimed they interfered with their hunting.

Old Man Jeff and his brothers were out fox hunting one night-and the Whippoorwills were so loud they couldn’t hear the dogs running. Old Man Jeff told one of his brother’s to pull out his shirt tail and tie a knot in it-to choke the Whippoorwills. As soon as he tied the knot the birds quietened a bit. Old Man Jeff told him to tie another one-and the birds got even quieter-Old Man Jeff instructed his brother to tie one more knot-as he tied the last knot-all the Whippoorwills fell out of the tree dead! And there hasn’t been a Whippoorwill in Bellview since.

The story or should I say “tall tale” is funny enough-but Pap says the recording is even funnier. At the end of the tape-you can hear a lady say “anybody who’d believe that is standing on their head” then you hear the interviewer ask who the lady is-and Old Man Jeff says “That’s my crazy old woman she don’t believe nothing!”

I love hearing the call of the Whippoorwill-it’s kind of eerie and lonesome. Seems each year I hear them less. Today I was surprised to learn the population has decreased by as much as 80% in some areas-no wonder I’m not hearing them as often.

Do you like to hear Whippoorwills? Have you ever heard one?


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  • Reply
    May 29, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Misty-thank you for the comment! I still have whippoorwills around my house. You can go here to hear one: https://blindpigandtheacorn.com/blind_pig_the_acorn/2012/06/appalachia-through-my-eyes-whipporwills.html
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    May 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    One of my fondest memories of my grandparents is going out on a warm summer night to sit on the porch and listen to the whippoorwill. My Grandparents passed some 10 years ago. and so it seams, too has that sweet whippoorwill call. We could hear 2 that would seemingly sing back and forth. One would go on and on for a bit..then off in the distance another. I live on the outskirts of Nashville (Brown County) Indiana. I miss the whippoorwill song almost as much as I miss my Nan and Grandad. I go out at night and sit on my porch swing in the hopes that I might catch a listen to the sound that would probably bring me to tears for all the memories it would bring back.a

  • Reply
    April 15, 2009 at 12:40 am

    I love the picture!! I had no idea what one was, Sooo that I guess answers the next question ..NOPE never heard one…BUT then again…maybe I have don;t you think LOL I mean if I don’t know them HOW would I know what they sounded like LOL LOL. very cute though! I am a big Owl fan, they kinda remind me in the pic of one.hope you’re well 🙂
    Much love from the Rockies 🙂

  • Reply
    Nancy M.
    April 6, 2009 at 5:50 am

    Funny story! We just started hearing the whipporwills again a few days ago. I like being able to listen to them.

  • Reply
    Judith Richards Shubert
    April 1, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    Oh yes, I have heard many whippoorwill’s in my time. They have a beautiful, mournful sound. I hope they are not “choked out” completely!
    I continue to love your stories and the music. Thanks for visiting me at http://genealogytraces.blogspot.com and leaving your comments.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    We have them in our woods too, although I’m not sure there are as many as we used to have. It is a soothing, lonesome sort of sound.

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    March 28, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    It seems like I haven’t heard the whippoorwills in a long time. I even used to hear them in Okla. City when I was little and for sure when we’d go back to Tennessee for family reunions. I’ll have to listen for them this year since I’m out ‘in the country’ now.

  • Reply
    March 28, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I love the sound of the whippoorwill, reminds me of my grandma, and sleeping over at her house when I was little.

  • Reply
    March 28, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    We’re listening for them also, we’ve had 2 the last couple of years…1 up the holler and 1 down the holler. It’s so beautiful hearing them call to each other. (I guess that’s what they’re doing!)
    We have a whippoorwill winter here (according to Mamaw) and I think it’s in between Dogwood and Blackberry, I’ll have to pay better attention this year! 🙂

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    March 27, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    If whippoorwills call in Indiana I have never heard them, not one. My birdwatching book says they should be all around.
    Last one I heard was in Tennessee. I heard them every warm evening then. Still, unseen.
    I could never tire of those times; dusk, a warm evening, nighttime falling, darkness beginning, a long battle with the day’s hardness nearly over, a neighbor sitting with us on the porch and Mom and Dad and him talking and telling stories and recollecting how it was back then.
    A whippoorwill calling, somewhere there off on the hillside. A soft, melancholy refrain.
    But I don’t hear them here. Never have.
    I think the coming dark would be softer if I could.

  • Reply
    March 27, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    That sure was a tall tale. I’ve heard whippoorwills, but not lately. I love to listen to the birds.

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    March 27, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I’ve never heard one, Tipper! It sounds as though I’m truly missing out! I would love to hear that recording you referred to. Actually, the first time I’ve ever heard of a whipporwill was through Hank William’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Die.” A fun tale. Wishing you and your family a Spring full of Whipporwills! :))

  • Reply
    March 27, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    That’s a great tale! I wonder how the birds tell it these days!

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    March 27, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Tipper: I can remember the call of the Whippoorwill when in the PA mountains. I certainly haven’t heard one for quite a while.

  • Reply
    March 27, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I don’t think I know what they sound like either. I was with JoLyn when we first saw fireflies. Like little girls seeing our first Christmas Tree. At my house in WA springtime brings frogs. Millions of tiny frogs smaller than a quarter. They are so loud that if you get anywhere near the pond you can’t hear each other talk.

  • Reply
    March 27, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Not familiar until now! Thanks for sharing and have a fantastic weekend! 🙂

  • Reply
    March 27, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I love to hear the whippoorwills! We always left the door open as a kid so we could hear their sweet songs. I esp love to hear them call back and forth (I guess)…excellent stuff. I heard some just 2 weeks ago at my folks’ house again!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 27, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Tipper, I don’t hear them where I live. Either I am too close to civilization or there aren’t as many of them as they used to be. I haven’t even thought of them in years. Sad, one more thing no longer around because of us.
    I do have bears, raccoons, woodpeckers, squirrels and I had a possum on the porch two nights ago!

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    March 27, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Haven’t heard a whippoorwill in years. Last time was when I visited my sister in WV during the Summer. Don’t go there much in Summer anymore. Ticks just seem to enjoy attaching themselves to me. In the city I hear doves out back and we have an owl that visits every day. I had to ask Andy about it and he said he saw him a few times. He’s a great birdwatcher.
    Thanks for sharing the story, it made me giggle. Hope you hear their call a lot more come Summer. xxoo

  • Reply
    Greta Koehl
    March 26, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    I remember taking a vacation in the western Virginia mountains when my girls were very little. My then 3-year-old was enchanted with the whippoorwills, and would tell us, “I can hear them whippooring.”

  • Reply
    March 26, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    I have heard whippoorwills, it has been a long time. I remember a tale about a man named Will that my family knew when I was a kid. It was told that he was going to whip his daughter and the whippoorwill kept saying whip-her-will,whip-her-will and he about beat her to death.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I haven’t heard a whippoorwill in many years. Sad that they, like several other birds, are disappearing. The meadowlark seems to be gone from here as well. blessings, marlene

  • Reply
    teresa atkinson
    March 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    I love to sit on my porch swing and listen to the whipporwills late summer evenings.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Hear that lonesome whippoorwill? He sounds to blue to cry.
    It means he’s lost the will to live.
    I’m so lonesome I could die. Hank Williams
    I heard them many times. We don’t have them in this area that I know of. I remember them in the evening when I was a boy at my grandmother’s farm. Pappy

  • Reply
    March 26, 2009 at 9:42 am

    I’m not all together sure I know what they sound like. I need a demonstration. 🙂

  • Reply
    Matthew Burns
    March 26, 2009 at 9:36 am

    I’ve always liked to sit on the fronch porch and listen to the whipporwills. The hillside behind our house seems to be chock full of them. My Granny always said that a place with a lot of whipporwills is a sign that there are alot of snakes in the area too, because whipporwills eat snakes. I do know that our hillside is like one big rockpile, legend has it that the hillside is the spot where the devil broke his apron strings and lost all of his rocks during the great rock fight between him and God. So I’m sure all of those rocks are a fine snake harbor, and hence would support a more than populous community of whipporwills.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2009 at 7:50 am

    I dont think I have ever heard one. I wish I could though…what a neat story.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2009 at 6:46 am

    I haven’t heard one here in the Detroit area, but they used to sign us to sleep in Northern Lower Michigan. But only two or three, not enough so we couldn’t hear.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    What a comical story!
    Whipporwhill’s remind me of my childhood in Oklahoma. We’d hear their lonesome call in the summer.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    I haven’t heard a whippoorwill in a real long time. That’s the trouble with living in the city now, I guess…well, one of the troubles.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    That is a funny story! I used to tie the fronts of my shirts all the time. Maybe that has something to do with the dwindling population. LOL
    The sound of the whippoorwil is something I look forward to when the air turns warm. I used to have one that was so loud outside my bedroom window, it sounded as if he were sitting on the window sill. He sang me to sleep each night. I sure miss that one.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Oh Tipper, the whippoorwill is my favorite bird. My sister lives out in the boonies from me and she has a beautiful place. She called me one evening last spring and said, “Listen,” it was the whippoorwills across the road from her front porch, even tho it was over the phone, I could hear them quite clearly. Also when we lived in Arkansas, there used to be so many calling at nite, it was hard to get to sleep, lol. I would count the calls till I fell asleep. More recently, I have had the greatest pleasure in getting to see one up close and personal in my driveway! How cool is that. Thank you for bringing back these sweet sounding memories.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    I remember sitting in my open window as a child in Hurricane WV after dark listening to the sound of the train and the whippoorwills. Now as an adult in TX the closest thing we have is a pair of Poor Will’s Widows. Close but just not the same. Hope you hear them every single night this spring.

  • Reply
    Rick M
    March 25, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    A few years ago we had one right outside are bedroom window. It just about drove me crazy. But your right I’ve not heard one in a long time.But I have always like to hear them but I don’t remember ever seeing one.

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    March 25, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    I can’t say that I have ever heard a whippoorwill. With such a pretty name, I bet they have a lovely call.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard a whippoorwill. There’s lots of things you probably have there that we don’t have out West. I remember the first time I saw a firefly was when I went to Williamsburg. That was one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen!

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