Whip-poor-will Pwips & Mystery Bird Sound

I was stumbling around in the dark an hour before sunrise, setting up the SASS and stringing the mic cable back to the blind (my truck in this case)—it was 5AM.

I got the recorder up and running, set a pleasing level that I assumed would keep close-by birds from distorting once they woke up.

All was quiet, I waited for the first sounds. Shortly, Barred Owls called in the distance, then Whip-poor-wills started farther away and moved closer. Once they land they make clucking sounds, pwip . . . pwip . . . pwip, before they sing. I had never heard this before. In the recording below, you can hear five pwips before he starts to sing.

Whip-poor-will pwips and song. Sleepy Creek WMA, Berkeley County, WV. April 23, 2010. ©Wil Hershberger.

After the sun was coming up and the Whip-poor-wills had ceased singing, American crows, Eastern Tufted Titmice, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Eastern Towhees were ramping up. All of the sudden something strange started making soft piping notes near the mics. I couldn’t imagine what could be out there, in the thicket beyond the SASS, that was making these wild sounds—almost tropical sounding. There are hints that it could be a Blue Jay as there are several squeaky sounds that are typical for Blue Jays. I couldn’t see this songster, it was hidden from view by the distance and leafing out vegetation.

What do you think? (Listen carefully—we’re referring to the resonant, musical purps or pops that occur here and there in the recording).

Mysterious bird sound from Sleepy Creek WMA, Berkeley County, WV. April 23, 2010. ©Wil Hershberger.


  1. this is a gem of a site! In June at Schramm Park here in Sarpy county nebraska the whip-poor-will song fills the bur-oak forest. good place to have a woodcock startle you too!

  2. Excellent! I too never knew that Whippoorwills made pwip sounds. I can hear a distant Great Horned Owl in the background of that recording. I too believe that the mystery bird sound could’ve been a Blue Jay.

    I too have heard a mystery sound that I thought was a Blue Jay. It happened this year, at my grandparents house. I was outside, and heard an unusual loud, trill-like sound. It was something I’ve never heard in recordings, and the bird was unseen. I knew it had to have been a bird, because it had long pauses in between calls, and each call sounded farther or closer away. It sounded like a sound effect from a video game. I have a recording of this unusual sound. It calls 5 times in the recording, the first 2 calls close, the last 3 calls distant.

  3. Wow…the gems you can sometimes blindly stumble across while on the web. My list of bookmarks just got bigger! Your site truly brings back memories to me…the soundtrack of a life spent loving nature.

    A friend and I were discussing whips ( and their sad decline in our area of southern Illinois)and the question arose as to whether the females do any of the singing. Well I still don’t know the answer to that one (yet) but it did make me smile to be able to sit back and once again hear a whip “gur gur” as you call it. Years ago, when whips were far more plentiful, my husband and I would often be working on farm machinery when the birds would start calling in the woods across from the shed. Many times one of us would call back to them, out of habit, and if you were good enough you could entice one to fly up and circle the barn in the twilight, fooled by a whip poseur. Our barn is totally open at both ends and back then, the west end was an old horse enclosure with a dirt floor, wooden rails and plank fencing. I still recall the first time I heard the pwips and the gur gur. I happened to be back in the old stall section and had just heard a bird call very closely and of course I had whistled back as always. Suddenly this bird fluttered in to land on the old railing right by my very surprised head. It wasted no time at all getting down to the business of calling, but to my amazement it was a quick series of pops, then a few of the usual namesake calls, followed by the gur gur which as I recall seemed very unbird-like in nature. It seems that when whips get excited, the rate at which they call speeds up noticeably. The entire series of sounds this bird made was much more rapid…I guess he really believed he was onto somethng big in that stall. I had head whips make the pops before several times when conditions were right, but the long , rather rumbly gurring was something completely new. It did not go on for nearly as long as did the bird in your recording….but was still an amazing experience. I have tried to describe it to other people but it is difficult to vocalize and most have likely been too far away from a calling bird to hear it anyway.

    I can tell you , however, that while standing there in the half-light, I never saw another bird in there with it, so at least in my instance this phenomenon was not accompanied by mating.
    Ah how I do miss those early summer evenings….. the drives down old dusty gravel roads where one could see their little glittering ruby eyes in the headlights about every mile.

    I can’t imagine a country childhood without whip-poor-wills.
    Thank you for bringing them back for me.

    wendy t

  4. I have never heard a “backward” singing Whip. That would be very interesting to hear. I have been out the last couple of mornings waiting for our whips to return. Any day…

  5. Thank you! That is the first whippoorwill that I have heard this year. Now I will probably hear them tonight.
    I live over in Calhoun County, WV, and for several years we had, what I can only describe as a “backwards” singing whippoorwill. Have you ever heard one? We thought, the first year, that it was a juvenile bird just learning to sing. But if it was, it never learned to do it right. It moved about ten miles south west of us a few years ago, as a man and his wife told me about a strange backward singing whippoorwill the year we did not hear it. It’s song was almost exactly backwards of the normal song.

    • Bill: we heard whips last night in Big South Fork National Rec Area (northeast Tennessee). I hope to post a recording of one singing on Facebook, along with calling Mountain Chorus Frogs.

  6. Unbelievable—the “pwip” calls of a Whip-poor-will. What a wonderful, super clean recording. A real jewel. Only possible it seems with an element of luck—put the mike out for Wild Turkey and a Whip-poor-will shows up instead!

    Way to go Wil, or should I say “Way to go Whipper-Wil”?
    : >)

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