Family Nightjars (Caprimulgidae)

Least Concern

Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii)


French: Engoulevent de Nuttall German: Winternachtschwalbe Spanish: Chotacabras pachacua

Caprimulgus Nuttallii


, 1844,

upper Missouri between Fort Pierre and mouth of the Cheyenne River, South Dakota, USA


Race centralis often regarded as synonymous with adustus. Geographical variation somewhat difficult to assess; most races overlap in range with nominate, and may not be diagnosable with certainty. Species may perhaps be better treated as monotypic. Six subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. n. nuttallii (Audubon, 1844) – SW Canada S through W USA to N Mexico; winters S to C Mexico.
  • P. n. californicus Ridgway, 1887 – SW USA (W California) and extreme NW Mexico (NW Baja California).
  • P. n. hueyi Dickey, 1928 – SE California, SW Arizona and NW Mexico (NE Baja California, NW Sonora).
  • P. n. dickeyi Grinnell, 1928 – C & S Baja California.
  • P. n. adustus van Rossem, 1941 – S USA (extreme S Arizona) S to NW Mexico (Sonora).
  • P. n. centralis R. T. Moore, 1947 – C Mexico from S Durango S to NE Jalisco and Guanajuato.
  • Descriptive notes

    18–21 cm; male 31–58 g, female 37–58 g. Sexually dimorphic, though only marginally so. Upperparts greyish brown or greyish white, speckled and barred brown... read more


    Song of male is a melodious, whistled “poor-will-low” lasting c. 0·5 seconds,... read more


    Typically arid or semi-arid country: deserts, gravelly plains, open prairie, grassy hillsides,... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet consists mainly of beetles, moths, cicadas, bugs, grasshoppers, locusts, flying ants and flies (once an army ant), with prey up to 40... read more


    Probably breeds late May to Sept in N of range, Mar–Aug in S. Probably regularly double-brooded, second clutch often laid within 100... read more


    Well known for habit of hibernation during cold weather (see Family Text). Nominate race in part... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. In USA, not officially listed, e.g. by US Fish and Wildlife Service, as threatened or endangered anywhere in range; in Canada, not listed by... read more

    Recommended citation

    Cleere, N. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 17 February 2020).