Animals In Appalachia Appalachia

Whippoorwills in Topton

whippoorwill on fence post

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“When I was little, after supper we’d go out on the front porch and listen to the nightingales and whippoorwills calling for their mates. Mama always said the nightingale never said the same thing. One time, after dark, Tommy Higdon brought his coon dogs up to the house to see if he could catch a coon and me and Harold went with him. There wasn’t no roads going up in the holler, only trails. We got up in the holler a far piece and his dogs smelled something under the banks near the creek. They wouldn’t bother it, but Tommy reached under the bank and pulled out a Whippoorwill. It wasn’t no bigger than a thought, but we noticed them red, beady eyes. Me and Harold had never seen one up close and were amazed. It was speckled, kinda like our domineckers back home in the roost. How could anything make such a loud racket, being so small? We put it back in the bank on a root and left it alone. We learned something that night and never spoke of it again.”

—Ken Roper


For the last several springs we’ve heard a whippoorwill start its unique call early in the morning, like 5:00 a.m. early in the morning.

Usually about the time its call would wake you from a deep sleep our dog Ruby Sue would start barking. I don’t think she appreciated the whippoorwill’s song 🙂

This spring we haven’t heard the early morning whippoorwill. Seems strange, but somehow fitting that Ruby Sue and her nemesis the whippoorwill both left us before spring of the year arrived.

Do you hear whippoorwills at your house? I’m sure hoping I hear one as summer comes on even if the early morning alarm clock is gone.


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  • Reply
    Doyle Speaks
    May 12, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    Great memories of the Whippoorwills in southeastern Kentucky. Haven’t heard one in over 50 years. The same with screech owls. I enjoyed the story.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    May 12, 2021 at 6:22 pm

    I am sorry about Ruby. I understand how it is to have a long time pet decline. They are like a member of the family.

    I love to hear whippoorwills. I have never seen one – only a picture. They sure are odd looking birds. After a while though you wish they would be quite! I used to hear them as a child and now I hear them when I go camping with my Boy Scout Troop. It adds a lot to the experience.

    Thank you for what you do.

    Dennis Morgan

    • Reply
      Diane Davis
      May 12, 2021 at 7:55 pm

      So sorry to hear about the loss of your dear dog.

  • Reply
    May 12, 2021 at 6:16 pm

    Growing up it was real common to hear the whippoorwills in our holler. For some reason they just seemed to vanish over night. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard one.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2020 at 1:59 pm

    Tipper, I’m so sorry about Ruby Sue. What a happy life she had – even with the whippoorwill!

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    May 15, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    Tipper went i was small I learned to men ic the birds and I knew the whippoorwill Mates as she called him I remembered the mating call and whenI was 65 I called up one He was wry small and I thought he was going fly into my face he sure was fooled and I know disappointed. Now that I have false teeth I can’t. all them

  • Reply
    harry adams
    May 14, 2020 at 5:39 pm

    We don’t have them in Ohio and my wife and I both miss hearing them. When visiting my brother in SC we go out and sit on his porch at dusk to see if we can hear one. I have gone to a bird site on the internet just to hear them.

  • Reply
    May 14, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    When I was a youth, the whippoorwill was annoying. You could hardly hear yourself think if you went outside at night. Now I yearn for the sound of the whippoorwill or a bob white.
    I am so sorry about Ruby Sue. It was obvious she was a much loved dog!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    May 14, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    Last time that I heard a whippoorwill was about 20 years ago in Cedartown GA. And I thought about the Robert Mitchum movie “Thunder Road” and the beautiful song, “The Whippoorwill” sung by Keeley Smith.

  • Reply
    betty stephenson
    May 14, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    unfortunately we dont have them here but still get what we call the dawn chorus here with all the birds its really great to listen to there was a while after all those horrible earthquakes 10 years ago all the birds disssapeared for a very long time thankfully they came back and we can now get to hear and see them have a great week everyone

  • Reply
    Judy Lee Green
    May 14, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Good story. I have never seen a whippoorwill. How big or how little are they?

    • Reply
      May 14, 2020 at 2:42 pm

      Judy-they are tiny birds. As Ken said it’s amazing they can be as loud as they are 🙂

  • Reply
    Drew P.
    May 14, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    We’re blessed to still here them every spring. It’s always of an evening and on the same hillside.

  • Reply
    May 14, 2020 at 10:40 am

    No Whippoorwills and no Bob Whites, and I listen carefully. I still am able to hear the lonesome sounds of Mourning Doves, and always felt they were like ventriloquists in that it seems impossible to detect how far away and in what direction they are cooing from. I actually did a paper once on the Dodo bird and how it became extinct, and was sad to see how easily this slow flightless bird left the earth forever.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    May 14, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Whippoorwills are definitely on the decline nationwide. This makes me so sad. I remember hearing them in Waynesville and even near our home in Marietta when I was first there. Too much growth and loss of habitat. When we first moved to Michigan, we would hear them in the summer, but no longer. They are so scarce in most parts of the country that they are put on rare bird alerts when they are heard.

  • Reply
    May 14, 2020 at 9:06 am

    We still hear them here. I remember as a kid , we would try and mock them. We did that with our grandkids to. They thought it was funny. I like the sound and their look. ( Unique)

  • Reply
    May 14, 2020 at 8:59 am

    It has been a really long time since I heard a Whippoorwill or a Bob White Quail. I had never seen a Whippoorwill so it was quite a surprise to see your picture of one and realize there size. Seems like I hear a Catbird around my house and I never knew there was such a bird till a couple years ago.

  • Reply
    May 14, 2020 at 8:51 am

    So sad how many birds are being displaced by human environment.

  • Reply
    May 14, 2020 at 8:41 am

    Mammy used to tell us that we need to pay attention if we were going uphill or downhill when we heard the first whippoorwill of the year. Going downhill meant you would fall away (lose weight) before too long. Going uphill when you heard the whippoorwill was an exciting thing, as most of the folks loved being a bit ‘fleshy’ and had no idea it was unhealthy to be overweight. I’m not sure if that is a common folklore or just something repeated within my family.
    It’s been a long time since I heard whippoorwills in my area.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 14, 2020 at 8:26 am

    I have never heard a whip-poor-will here though we are supposed to be within the natural range. We do have chuck-wills-widows around but I do not recall hearing them here at the house either.

    Growing up in southeastern KY the whip-poor-will could always be counted on to start calling in May. We also had “whip-poor-will winter” to coincide. It was the last cold spell but was neither as long nor as cold as blackberry winter. That would be right around corn planting time. Their call always reminds me of catfishing on the Cumberland River.

    As can be seen in the picture, the whip-poor-will has a fantastic camoflage. If sitting still on the leaves, about the only thing that allows it to be seen is the lines of the bill. But you have to look long ad carefully to see that.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    May 14, 2020 at 7:46 am

    I don’t hear whippoorwills here anymore and they used to be thick. A good friend took his Son-In-Law turkey hunting last year and the Son-In-Law was startled by the call of a Whippoorwill. First he ever heard. I’ve read that so much of their winter habitat has been destroyed is the reason for their decrease.
    The bird I hear the most close in to town is Barred Owls. They like to start talking about dust dark. I guess a Barred Owl would eat a whippoorwill but it wouldn’t be much of a meal.
    I just thought of something silly we said as kids about the call of Whippoorwills. When the Whippoorwill gave out its call of whip ole Will we would answer back don’t whip me Pa whip ole Charlie.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      May 14, 2020 at 11:58 am

      My Wife read my post and said she always heard don’t whip me Pa whip ole Will. That makes more sense but I said Charlie.

  • Reply
    Darlene Longmire
    May 14, 2020 at 6:34 am

    I’ve heard a few whippoorwills but have never seen one. Thanks for the article but mostly because of the photo. Meadowlarks have a prettier song but I haven’t seen or heard one for a long time. My husband and I love to watch and feed the birds. Such simple pleasures. My husband is 84 and I’m 81 and we’ve loved our animal and bird watching all our lives. Too many coyotes around for the ground birds to thrive. A brown thrasher has come back. Hadn’t seen one of them for a long time either.

  • Reply
    Joe Chumlea
    May 14, 2020 at 6:17 am

    I miss the sound of the whipoorwills. What I miss the most is the Bob White Quail.

  • Reply
    May 14, 2020 at 5:47 am

    We use to hear a Whippoorwill in the bottom below our first house, but when they built the 4lane the whippoorwill left, we sold that house and rebuilt on the other side of that bottom and still no sounds of the Whippoorwill, we use to have an owl roosting also below the house but all that’s gone now you might see one fly thru every once in a while now, but the sounds of the Whippoorwill are gone.

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