Animals In Appalachia Appalachia

Whippoorwills in Bellview

choking out the wippoorwills

I grew up hearing Pap tell a very silly story about Whippoorwills.

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

Old Man Jeff claimed to have been responsible for choking out  the Whippoorwills in Bellview (a local community). Pap said back then Whippoorwills were so plentiful that fox hunters said 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 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. 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 and 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 was even funnier.

At the end of the recorded story you can hear a lady say “Anybody who’d believe that is standing on their head!” The interviewer asks 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. The sound is kind of eerie and lonesome. Seems each year I hear them less. 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 the continued spread and sprawl of people.



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  • Reply
    Gaye Blaine
    September 14, 2020 at 10:26 am

    Whippoorwills once sat on our roofline at night and called in western NC. No longer!!! Sad. I believe spraying the road banks has contributed to this. We no longer here the lovely Bob white calls either.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Referring back to the chuck wills widow in Florida. Just thinking about them and their call from the top of a fence post at dusk takes me back to a lot of romantic evenings in Clearwater. Wonderful times.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    I was always sorta afraid of whipoorwills when I was a little girl ~ I still don’t care for their call. We hear more of the call which sounds like, “chip butter outta the white oak”.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    This is a great story! We had a whippoorwill recently. I was glad to hear it, but it was SO loud and close, both at bedtime and early in the morning before light. We’re kind of glad it may have found its mate and moved on.
    In Florida, we had the chuck-wills-widow. At bedtime, our son when he was little, was afraid of the noise. We had a hard time explaining it was just a regular (not giant) size bird out bug-huntin’ at night.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    Fun story and loved reading everyone’s comments, too.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2017 at 11:59 am

    That comes nigh to surpassing any tale I’ve ever heard… or told…

  • Reply
    May 23, 2017 at 11:41 am

    When I was a little thing, daddy use to take me and Harold posseum hunting almost every night. One night above the house our 4 feists caught a bird roosting under a bank. The dogs wouldn’t even hurt it and daddy told us it was a Whipporwill. It wasn’t bigger than an egg and it had little beady red eyes. We set it back under the bank on some roots so we could hear it the next time.
    We use to sit on our front porch and listen to the Nightingales of the evening. Mama told us they never made the same call. They must be talking to their neighbors cause they sure got a lot to say. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 23, 2017 at 10:51 am

    You had me bleving that story til it came to the part where the whippoorwills fell out of that there tree. Everbody knows that whippoorwills can’t climb!
    I’ve been listening to whippoorwills here since back in April. Their population seems to be increasing around here along with many other birds. In fact I’ve seen more birds in the last few years than I can remember. Unlike most places, people are moving away from here, everything is growing up and I’m loving it!
    The other day I was outside talking to my brother on the phone. There was a bird singing on the power line. Stephen said, “What is that sound?” “It is a bird singing.” I told him. “Is it setting on your shoulder?”

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    May 23, 2017 at 10:40 am

    That is a funny story!
    I love the sound of the whippoorwill on a still summer night. It is beautiful and a lonesome sound. I still hear them from time to time here but it does seem that I hear less than before. I hope civilization does not push them to extinction. That would be sad indeed. I’ve only seen them in pictures because they are so well camouflaged you could be looking at one and not know it.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    May 23, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Seems I read this story or somewhere near like it here a few years ago.
    When the different “winters” were spoke of a few posts ago and whippoorwills were mentioned, I said that I hadn’t heard one in a few years…Only hear the Chuck-wills-widow that calls in the huge maple tree close to our windows and woodland edge…I am sure he dines on bugs that are attracted to the light coming from the window at night. We have blinds now so not a extra amount of light shines through like in past years. We have no other outdoor lights and in the country where we live only distant neighbors have a outdoor night lights on the barn and one on the side of their house!
    I have been chomping at the bit to tell you of my hearing a “Whip-poor-will” last week. We had just got home much later than dusk. I decided to sit out by the driveway and take in the few lightning bugs that were beginning to show up and fly higher into the tree canopy as they do as evening progresses…In the far distance, I thought I heard it…I quit my shuffling on my roll-a-tor, scolding myself like a noisy child! I listened again, straining my ears toward where I thought the first sound was coming from. Sure enough there it was again. I was tickled pink! He must have been down close to the neighbors nightlights but the sound seemed to be coming from the woodland. I was so glad to hear the Whip-poor-will again.
    Our Chuck-wills-widow has not shown his call so far this year. Like I stated before he usually calls in June.
    I have heard the Whippoorwill several evenings since that night! I hope the “nesting birds” will be successful. So more arrive and move closer to our place! It is very hard on an old woman’s ears and brain when straining to hear and then distinguish the sounds at that distance.
    It is so funny to think that I might have to get one of those vintage “hearing horns”, place it in my ear, bend my head South into the woods, just to hear the lost Whip-poor-will!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Happy Whip-poor-will hunting to you! Loved the story! Tall tale or not…where there is smoke, I always check just in case there is fire! ha
    Right now on this cloudy morning…I am hearing the Phoebe calling trying to “shew” all the other birds from his territory…they are funny little fellers too! We feel so blessed, we have at least four to six pair of nesting Cardinals near the house and in fact one shrub against the house…One roosts on the stray Wisteria branch under the porch ceiling…we startle him often if we come in after dark, but he persists and is right back the next evening to claim his roosting spot! When Cardinals Are Around Angels Abound!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 23, 2017 at 9:20 am

    I miss the whipoorwills. I think I live just south of their summer range. But I grew up with their summer serenade. We never heard them until May. I do not recall ever being upset about the noise they made because there were not that many and most often they were far away.
    If I were to write a description of my perfect place to live, it would include whipoorwills, wood thrush, bobwhite and scarlet tanager in summer.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Come to think of it, I can’t recall hearing a whippoorwill for several years now. Mammy and her children used to say when a person heard the first whippoorwill to pay attention if you are going up or downhill. Going downhill meant you would fall away (lose weight) and going uphill meant you would gain weight. They really believed that! Where I’m from, there wasn’t much level ground so a person was likely going up or downhill about any time they were outside.
    Sounds like the girls will be busy for a few days. Wish I could be there.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    May 23, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Never heard such a tall tale but I did read that their species is declining. I enjoy hearing them but I had to goggle the name to see pictures of them and see how perfectly they blended into the trees and ground.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    May 23, 2017 at 8:29 am

    I miss hearing the call of the Whippoorwills – the Chuck Will’s Widows, too. When we first moved to Michigan, it was comforting to hear them calling here. It was like a little bit of home. Sadly, more and more of the woods we live in have been cut for housing. We rarely hear either anymore. It’s like the Loons who use to be on the river by us. They used to come every year on their way to Canada. Don’t hear them often, either.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 23, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Good story, love these old tall tales. Especially like the comment his wife made. Stealing that one.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 23, 2017 at 8:17 am

    That’s a funny story, but I wonder where it came from, I mean something must have prompted it.

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