Birds of the Upper Cumberland Region: Species Accounts


Chuck-will's-widow (Antrostomus carolinensis)

Chuck-will's-widow (adult brooding young under left wing [out of sight]). Photograph Credit: Janie C. Finch; Allen Hollow Rd., Putnam County, Tennessee; 23 June 2013.


Abundance: Fairly Common from late spring to mid-summer, becoming Very Uncommon by late summer or early fall and being largely absent (or extremely difficult to record if present but not vocal) throughout the remainder of the fall; recorded in all Regional counties (Map of UCR Distribution); the trend for the Regional breeding population is probably decreasing in the part of the Region with lower elevation (i.e., Central Basin and Highland Rim) but possibly increasing in the part of the Region with higher elevation (i.e., the Cumberland Plateau); see Remarks (below and see also Regional Bird-Monitoring Plan).

Status: Summer Resident. Photograph (see above).

Regional High Count and SBC/SBB High Count: 16 (8 May 1993; Putnam County, Tennessee [SBC]; m. ob.); FBC/FBB High Count: no data.

Regional Extreme Dates:

    Early Spring: 7 April 2003 (DeKalb County, Tennessee; Carol D. Williams).

    Late Fall: 30 August 1970 (Byrdstown, Pickett County, Tennessee; Robbie C. Hassler; Parmer 1970d) and 30 August 2009 (Bullington Lane, Jackson County, Tennessee; James and Nancy Layzer).

    Note: Spring arrival usually widespread by 20 April; fall departure largely complete by 15 August, but data are quite thin during that season; Regional dates of earliest reported spring arrival and latest reported fall departure for the years 20022011 follow:

Year Early Spring Arrival Late Fall Departure
2002 17 April --
2003 7 April --
2004 19 April 15 August
2005 14 April --
2006 14 April --
2007 17 April 22 August
2008 17 April --
2009 23 April 30 August
2010 25 April --
2011 13 April --

Breeding: Confirmed (Historical and Recent).  The "nest" of this species consists at most of a shallow depression in leaf litter. The clutch almost always consists of 2 eggs, as illustrated in this photo (Nancy S. Layzer; Bullington Lane, Jackson County, Tennessee; June 2004) and this photo (Janie C. Finch; Allen Hollow Rd., Putnam County, Tennessee; 14 May 2012); see also Schneider (1944).  Like the young of many birds, "nestling" chucks are apparently unable to maintain thermal integrity for some days following hatching and so are afforded protection by an adult, as evidenced by this photo (Janie C. Finch; Allen Hollow Rd., Putnam County, Tennessee; 4 June 2012). Downy young are well camouflaged, as shown in this short (5 sec) video (Janie C. Finch; Allen Hollow Rd., Putnam County, Tennessee; 22 June 2013); somewhat older young showing a greater amount of feather shaft also remain well concealed in leaf litter, as demonstrated in this photo (Janie C. Finch; Allen Hollow Rd., Putnam County, Tennessee; 6 June 2012). When disturbed near the breeding site, adult chucks will engage in distraction displays, usually involving some version of the "broken wing act," but some intruders to the nest site may be greeted with a response to predator display, illustrated in this longer (1 min) video (Janie C. Finch; Allen Hollow Rd., Putnam County, Tennessee; June 2013). This ground-nesting species is quite susceptible to disturbance by free-roaming pets, of which many thousands are probably present in most Regional counties; absence of disturbance and presence of leaf litter presumably requisite for successful breeding.

    Schneider (1944) provides evidence of historical breeding by reproducing a photograph of an egg set from Science Hill, Pulaski County, Kentucky, obtained during May 1942 by Roger L. Barbour.

Habitat: Fairly mature woodlands of various composition surrounded by, or adjacent to, open country; these attributes appear to apply to the populations breeding at both higher and lower elevations.

YardWatch Results 2003 and 2004: Registered on 4 (of 125) monthly check-lists during 2003 and on 11 (of 206) check-lists during 2004, leading to YardWatch frequency classifications of Rare and Uncommon, respectively; these YardWatch frequency classifications are inconsistent with the overall Regional abundance classification, the former especially so, indicating that the chuck is much less frequently encountered in Regional yards and neighborhoods than in the Region as a whole.

Foray Results: A summary of data from UCR Forays follows (to view a map displaying foray data for a county or a sub-Region for this species, click on the name of an underlined county or state below):

County Dates when Foray Conducted Total Blocks
in County *
Total Blocks in which
Total Individuals
Recorded during Counting Period
Adair 816 June 2014 46 9 21
Barren 1–6 June 2013 54 2 3
Clinton 12–14 June 2009 24 3 4
Cumberland 1620 June 2014 35 9 16
McCreary 30 May5 Jun 2011 50 0 0
Metcalfe 812 June 2013 32 4 13
Monroe 1–12 June 2015 35 3 10
Pulaski 511 June 2010 72 5 11
Russell 1316, 2629 June 2012 31 3 0
Wayne 28 May3 June 2012 54 10 18
Kentucky   433 (408) 48 (11.1%) 96
Bledsoe 1824 June 2012 48 17 37
Clay 12–15 June 2010 30 2 2
Cumberland 29 May4 June 2010 75 8 30
DeKalb 2326 May 2008 40 11 24
Fentress 1117 June 2012 55 7 11
Jackson 29 May1 Jun 2009 40 10 28
Macon 1722 June 2013 32 5 7
Morgan 1–8 June 2014 58 10 26
Overton 2329 May 2011 47 5 0
Pickett 2225 May 2009 24 4 3
Putnam 6–12 June 2011 46 7 12
Scott 924 June 2016 62 1 1
Smith 1525 June 2015 37 3 3
Van Buren 13–15 June 2011 33 7 21
Warren 1–10 June 2016 47 5 10
White 1–6 June 2015 50 7 13
Tennessee   724 (651) 109 (15.1%) 228
Region   1157 (c. 1059) 157 (13.6%) 324

* Because some foray blocks fall into two or three counties, the total of blocks in the Kentucky or Tennessee portions of the Region is less than the sum of the blocks in the counties of each portion of the Region; similarly, because some blocks fall into both states, the total of blocks for the Region is less than the sum of the blocks in the two states.

RemarksSome evidence points to a possibly increasing population of this goatsucker on the Cumberland Plateau, while other evidence suggests a probably decreasing population inhabiting the Central Basin and Highland Rim. Regarding the former evidence, Spring Bird Count (SBC) data from Cumberland County, Tennessee, reveal a single bird recorded on one of three counts conducted in that county during the 1960s, while SBC data from the period of 2006 to 2013 reveal 17 individuals recorded on each of the eight counts. Regarding the latter evidence, Summer Roadside Survey data from Putnam County are relevant, with 35 indiviudals being counted at 27 of 500 points during June 1991, 25 individuals at 20 points during June 1996, 24 individuals at 19 points during June 2001, and 13 individuals at 10 points during June 2006, clearly a negative trend.

   Like all goatsuckers and some other species, Chuck-will's-widows possess specialized feathers known as rictal bristles, illustrated in this photo (Janie C. Finch; Allen Hollow Rd., Putnam County, Tennessee; 16 May 2012).

Check-lists of Birds for the Counties of the UCR

Check-lists of the birds of each county of the Upper Cumberland Region may be viewed by clicking on the links below. For each county, there are two check-lists: one list that shows the species that have been observed and where possible documented in the county within the larger list for the entire Region; and one list that includes only the species observed in the county with annotations for the date and observers for at least one sighting (the ultimate goal of the latter list will be to include annotations for the very first known Regional observation of each species in that county; this goal is probably one that will take many years to complete, if completion is even a possibility). To see if the species discussed in this species account has been observed in a county, click below or click on the link for the Map of UCR Distribution near the top of the page.

Barren Metcalfe Adair Russell Pulaski
Monroe Cumberland Clinton Wayne McCreary
Macon Clay Pickett Fentress Scott
Smith Jackson Overton Putnam Morgan
DeKalb White Cumberland
Warren Van Buren Bledsoe

Check-lists of Birds for Some Public Access Birding Sites of the UCR

Check-lists of the birds of some public access birding sites within the Upper Cumberland Region may be viewed via the links below. To see if the species dealt with in this species account has been observed within any of these sites, click on the appropriate link below. See the pages for each county within the Gazetteer for links to additional smaller public access birding sites with check-lists in progress.

Burgess Falls SP, Putnam/White Counties, TN Barren River Lake SP, Barren County, KY
Cumberland Mountain SP, Cumberland County, TN General Burnside Island SP, Pulaski County, KY
Edgar Evins SP, DeKalb County, TN  
Fall Creek Falls SP, Bledsoe/Van Buren Counties, TN Pulaski County Park, Pulaski County, KY
Frozen Head SNA, Morgan County, TN Waitsboro Recreation Area, Pulaski County, KY
Rock Island SP, Warren/White Counties, TN  
Standing Stone SP, Overton County, TN Big South Fork NRRA, KY and TN
Cane Creek Park, Putnam County, TN  
Roaring River Recreation Area, Jackson County, TN  

Literature Cited