Animals In Appalachia Appalachia Music

Have You Been Hearing the Whippoorwills?

whippoorwills in Appalachia

For the past few evenings we’ve been hearing a lone whippoorwill singing its heart out. Most years we hear a whippoorwill at dawn too, but not this year.

With our one whippoorwill singing it’s warbling note it’s hard to believe there was a time there was so many whipporwills calling it was hard to hear anything else.

Pap said when he was a boy there was lots of whippoorwills. He told me a funny story about them.

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. Jeff told one of his brothers 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. And he told him to tie another one and the birds got even quieter! The old man then instructed his brother to tie one more knot and as he tied the last knot all the whippoorwills fell out of the tree and there hasn’t been a whippoorwill in Bellview since!

Now that’s what you call a tall tall tale!

I love hearing the call of the whippoorwill. The sound is kind of eerie and lonesome. In some areas the whippoorwill population has been decreased by as much as 80%, not because of someone choking them out with their shirt-tail, but by continued spread and sprawl of people.

Here’s a video recording I captured of a whippoorwill back in 2012.

When I recorded the sound we still had our little dog Ruby Sue. Every time the whipporwill started calling Ruby started barking. She’d run all over the place barking every which away 🙂 Which wasn’t so funny at 5:00 a.m.

The Delmore Brothers had a dandy song about whipporwills singing in the spring of the year. Here’s Pap and Paul’s version.

Do you hear whippoorwills where you live?

Tipper

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    Anna Hatfield
    May 22, 2021 at 8:53 pm

    I used to hear them when I would spend the night with my grand parents, they live on a farm. There seemed to be one that liked to sit in the tree right out side my window. I’ve always found their song to be sort of wistful or lonely sort of like hearing a train while at night, but Instill loved it…thx for the story that brought back nice memories

  • Reply
    Helen Garrett Jones
    May 22, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    Thank you for Sharing memories. You took me back to me sitting in the swing with Granny and Grandpa’s in his chair on their front porch. Whippoorwills would start calling. Grandpa aggravated Granny about her brother-in-law Will Brendle and said Aunt Lena was calling us to whip poor Will. I alsi loved hearing the quail or “Bob-bob-white” as we called them. Good days in Brasstown.

  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    May 21, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    I sure did enjoy learning more about the whipoorwills. I have some good memories of hearing their sounds in the misty moonlight.

  • Reply
    Dave
    May 21, 2021 at 7:29 am

    Happy to say we have many Whippoorwills building nests and populating our area of Shoal Creek. I love hearing them at night and in the morning. We are pretty remote and that might be the reason. They had a couple of nests out in the wood shed last year. I do miss them in the winter but they are always back in early spring. There is a comfort to that.

  • Reply
    Lydia Kieft
    May 21, 2021 at 7:10 am

    I am fortunate enough to hear a whippoorwill every night . I have even been so blessed to have seen him/her on a moonlight night in my yard . I love the sound and look forward to hearing it every year . I hope it continues for many years here in Cohuttas, for they are truly few & far between .

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 20, 2021 at 10:55 pm

    I’ve been listening to a birdcall for the past two weeks. It sounds like a whippoorwill but it is too far away to be sure. I can’t hear the first part of the call. I waited til now to comment because I wanted to listen for it again tonight but it is even farther away. I have noticed for the past few days that the lightening bugs have been particularly bright!

  • Reply
    Ruth Binder
    May 20, 2021 at 8:25 pm

    Don’t believe I’ve ever heard a whippoorwill; thanks for the recording. Bob Whites are also rare however, last year I heard a one several times out in the country and that was a real treat.

  • Reply
    SusieQ
    May 20, 2021 at 8:01 pm

    Around close to us sadly not only do you not hear Whippowills much if at all anymore but also we don’t hear the lovely sound of the Bob White ….both of these growing up we heard muchly as granny lived right next to undeveloped fields where we played , picked blackberries , caught tad poles and built playhouses …now you need to drive out aways to sprawling fields , turn the car off open the doors and just delightfully listen …. love the sound of the Bob White also …I miss me being near them. In the time when the Whippowills sing

    • Reply
      SusieQ
      May 20, 2021 at 8:10 pm

      Whippoorwills…spelling correction☕️

  • Reply
    Tammy Scott
    May 20, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    I live in West Tennessee, Tipper, and am sad to say that I have not heard whippoorwills in decades. I live in town now, but I grew up out in the sticks. Maybe that’s why. Also, I don’t see butterflies hardly ever.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    May 20, 2021 at 6:18 pm

    I hear whippoorwills someimes when I go camping with my Scout Troop. When I was a child I heard them all the time. That song with Pap and Paul is really good. I enjoyed listening to it. Thanks for playing the whippoorwill sounds.

    Dennis Morgan

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    May 20, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    Haven’t heard one in years…last time was at Cedartown, GA. Always reminded me of Robert Mitchum and the movie.”Thunder Road”. Keely Smith sang a lonesome song, “The Whippoorwill”…

  • Reply
    Denise R
    May 20, 2021 at 11:41 am

    My husband and I grew up listening to Whippoorwills and miss hearing them. Where we live at is ideal habitat, but we have a huge feral cat population that has decimated them. Once in a while on a camping trip we’re lucky enough to hear them, but those opportunities are far between. I don’t agree with maintaining feral cat colonies as they do destroy song birds of every kind, but I digress…………..

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    May 20, 2021 at 11:24 am

    Fine song! We’re in the suburbs, so I don’t hear them, but I did last summer at the campground where we have our camping trailer.

  • Reply
    "Miss" Gina
    May 20, 2021 at 10:19 am

    Enjoyed hearing the Whipporil again. Growing up in Mississippi, our big family would sit on the porch after supper and listen to them. It is a special memory of our child hood at our beloved “Roebuck Place.”

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    May 20, 2021 at 10:17 am

    Sadly, many of the goatsuckers are becoming more and more scarce. Whip-poor-wills, Common poorwills, and Chuck-will’s-widows are all being heard and seen in diminishing numbers. This is mostly due to loss of habitat thanks to “progress.” The nighthawk portion of the family isn’t being impacted as greatly, but their numbers are also fewer. Expect lots more mosquitos.

  • Reply
    Chris
    May 20, 2021 at 10:15 am

    Hi Tipper, Thank you for this lovely post! I spend a lot of time in the woods, but honestly, I don’t know if I’ve heard them! But there are many woodpeckers there, and as theses are both insectivores, I imagine they’re there. You got my curiosity going and I found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac (https://www.almanac.com/when-whippoorwill-calls) that the bird got it’s name from Aristotle, who observed one that seemed like it was milking a goat! The site also lists some interesting folklore relating to the bird. Well thanks again, and I’ll listen more attentively now!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    May 20, 2021 at 10:05 am

    I haven’t heard one in many years. It’s sad to see them disappear.

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    May 20, 2021 at 9:59 am

    I so miss hearing whippoorwills at night; between the logging and the coyotes in our area, we haven’t heard a whippoorwill in years. There is a chuck-will’s-widow in my parents’ pasture, but it just isn’t the same.

  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    May 20, 2021 at 9:58 am

    I used to, till I moved, 8 miles away. There is something so lonesome and sad when there is only one. I enjoyed that tall tale. I was wondering how he got two knots, let alone three, in that shirt tail. LOL

  • Reply
    Walter Sloan
    May 20, 2021 at 9:52 am

    My maternal grandparents lived on Shanky Branch in Clay County, Tn outside Celina. I have very fond memories of the whippoorwills singing late in the evening and their song echoing down the “holler”. Although I grew up in southern middle Tn in Lincoln County, I spent some summer days with Pa and Mammy (grandparents) and loved the Clay County area. The old folks are all gone but I still enjoy visiting the “holler” and recalling the childhood memories and the song of the whippoorwill.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    May 20, 2021 at 9:09 am

    Instead of many birds singing, it’s a lot quieter than in years gone by. I have bugs falling out of the sky and bees etc that are dazed and confused not knowing what to do. Is it poison? Is it electromagnetic or chemical poisoning? Just enjoy today I suppose. It’s really all we have. Love and peace of Jesus to all—- you are going to need it!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 20, 2021 at 8:55 am

    I have never heard a whipoorwill here though we are within their range. What we hear are chuck-wills-widows. Their call is just like their name; first a low note “chuck” then the two distinct ringing “wills” & “widow”.

    They are interesting birds. Whipoorwill’s eyes will shine red in the light at night. Their nest is not a nest at all. They just sit down in the leaves. They are so well camoflauged they can’t be seen twenty feet away. About the cloest I can come to describing their colors is “brindle”. It is an intimate mixture of browns, black and gray. If you get too close, the mama bird does a broken wing act to draw you away.

    I wish I could hear a whipoorwill here. They remind me of May nights fishing on Cumberland River in southern KY. In that country, we had “whipoorwill winter”. It was the last cold spell of May and was very near the same time the whipoorwills started calling. It came after blackberry winter.

  • Reply
    JimK
    May 20, 2021 at 8:43 am

    We have had more whipporwills this year than I can remember. They start around dark and continue till dawn. Even though I’ve heard them all my life. I rarely have seen one. Hank Williams song was accurate in his verse, it is a lonely tune.

  • Reply
    Donna W
    May 20, 2021 at 8:24 am

    I haven’t heard a whippoorwill in years. I have done searches online trying to find out why that is, and apparently it’s because of so many feral cats roaming everywhere, and whippoorwills nest on the ground. When I was a child in the 50’s staying overnigh with my grandma on the farm, those birds would literally put me to sleep as the sun went down. Oh, how I miss them… and Grandma, too.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    May 20, 2021 at 8:22 am

    Yes, we have whippoorwills here. There seems to be a lot of them. I like to hear them sing at night.

  • Reply
    Melinda
    May 20, 2021 at 8:12 am

    Sadly the ‘Bob White’ call of quail is also rare in our SW Ohio area

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 20, 2021 at 6:56 am

    It’s always nice to hear Pap and Paul sing, such beautiful harmony. Whippowills seem to have such a sad song, but beautiful!

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    May 20, 2021 at 6:26 am

    Tipper,
    Your post brought back to memory Hank Williams song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” which begins: Hear that lonesome Whippoorwill, he sounds too blue to fly.

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