There’s no mistaking that back and forth chant of the Chuck Will’s Widow (Antrostomus carolinensis). If you’ve ever taken an early morning walk on Assateague before first light, chances are you’ve heard their throaty call ushered from deep within the thickets of bayberry shrubs. It is unmistakable, catchy, and their call seems to arrive on que with the heat and humidity of summer. Don’t be fooled, the call is often confused with that of the whippoorwill. Larger than the whippoorwill, Chuck Will’s exhibit nocturnal activity and forage primarily on large insects that are most active at dusk and dawn, though they are known to take smaller birds as well, like warblers, sparrows, and even bats! Exceptionally large mouths and specialized feathers known as rictal bristles help to funnel their diet choice directly into their mouths.
A member of the nightjar family, Caprimulgidae, Chuck Will’s have short legs and bills, but a rather impressive wingspan of 23-26 inches and exhibit excellent camouflage. The Chuck Will’s nesting characteristics are rather primitive, with eggs that are laid on flat ground, typically on leaves and pine needles.
Delmarva resides as one of the more northern reaches of the Chuck Will’s habitat range during the warmer months. In the winter, Chuck Wills may be found in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.
A unique bird, to some, the Chuck Will’s call is a defining characteristic of Assateague Island. Often heard and seldom seen, the Chuck Will announces its presence here during those times when all else has settled down and gone quiet. Long may it remain that way.