Whip-poor-will Song and “gur-gur” Calls

[singlepic id=118 w=350 float=left]Once I found the Whip-poor-will that was singing from an accessible location (see Whip-poor-will Pwips & Mystery Bird Sound), I went back several times to capture additional recordings of this wonderful song.

Little did I know what was in store for me. After setting up the mics and stringing the cable back to the truck, the Whip-poor-will started to sing before the recorder was started. Very shortly after initiating recording, the Whip-poor-will flew in closer and began to sing. At the same instant that he stopped singing a new call was heard. This call was lower in pitch and much quieter that the song. A rapidly repeated series of “gur-gur-gur-gur…” calls that seemed to drop slowly in pitch as the bird called. During this “gurring” there was the sound of the bird moving around slightly—was mating taking place during these calls? Was this “gurring” coming from the male or the female? There was no way to tell from my concealment.

It appears that there is little known about the vocal and breeding behavior of this species. What a wonderful opportunity for an industrious student of nature to add to our knowledge of these marvelous birds.

Here is the recording of the Whip-poor-will once he had flown in closer, from the quiet pwit notes, through the song and then the long series of gur calls:

Whip-poor-will song followed by a long series of gur-gur calls. Berkeley County, WV. May 4, 2010. ©Wil Hershberger.

Interestingly, the Chuck-will’s-widow has a similar vocalization. Here is a recording that Lang Elliott captured in the Wichita Mountains NWR in Oklahoma in 2000 on May 5 at about 3am. Notice how similar these aug-aug calls are to the gur-gur calls of the Whip-poor-will.

Chuck-will’s-widow song and aug-aug calls. Recorded in the Wichita Mountains NWR, Oklahoma. May 5, 2000 at 3am. ©Lang Elliott.


  1. Thank you all very much. The observations of the mating ritual are very interesting. I am sure that very few people have ever seen that in person.
    Yes, Zack, Lang’s recordings of Wild Turkey are from Wichita National Wildlife Refuge, KS.

  2. Such an unusual call from the Whippoorwill. I’ve never heard this, but it sure sounds “un-whippoorwill-like.”
    The Chuck-Will’s Widow calls were unusual too. If I heard that and didn’t know what that was, I might be scared.

    In the background of the Whippoorwill recording, I hear an Eastern Towhee calling and other whippoorwills, and in the background of the Chuck-Will’s-Widow recording, I hear other Chuck-Will’s Widow.

    Is Wichita National Wildlife Refuge the place where Lang got his recording of the turkeys gobbling at dawn?

  3. Hello, I can say that I have witnessed the mating rituals of the whip-poor will. One morning ( about 2am) years ago, I came home and sat in the drive way in my truck, and I heard and saw something i don’t think many if any people have .
    There were two birds, Ill say that one was male and the other female. One bird was sitting still ,while the other seemed to be doing some kind of dance around it. and at least one was making the gur,gur sound, that you have written about. as well as other sounds that i had never heard. It was an awesome experience .

  4. when i wuz n 8th grade i had 2 do a project on the whippoorwill bird and evry since then i have loved that bird. i hope 2 get 1 sum day. They r awesome and have u herd their call if tht isnt an awesome sound then idk wat an awesome sound is……. also i love ur website it is wonderful, and very informative

  5. Beautiful integration of videos, recordings, and text on this blog … a rich format for future books on nature.

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