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THE REDISCOVERY OF THE PUERTO RICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL

Reynard, G.B. 1962.
The rediscovery of the Puerto Rican Whip-poor-will.
Living Bird, 1: 51–60.

Abstract

On 8 March 1961, an unknown nocturnal call from an unseen source was heard and tape- recorded in southwestern Puerto Rico. Local residents, interviewed after hearing the recording, indicated that the call had been heard nightly, at least since 1900, and expressed the belief that it came from the Lizard Cuckoo or the Mangrove Cuckoo. Unsuccessful attempts were made to identify the call by sending copies of the recording to ornithologists.

The song had the quality of a caprimulgid’s, but was not the song of the Chuck-will’s- widow which winters on the island. One caprimulgid, a female taken in 1888, one sight record in 1911, and the bones of specimens (1919) were the only evidences of this bird’s presence, and most publications listed it as probably extinct. The one specimen had first been called a migrant Whip-poor-will, Antrostomus vociferus, by Cory, then designated a full species, Setochalcis noctitherus, by Wetmore, and later listed as Caprimulgus vociferus noctitherus by Peters.

Unsuccessful attempts were made to see the bird clearly and to catch it in mist nets by using its song playback to attract it. On 30 November 1961, a bird was finally collected. It was a male caprimulgid. Photographs were taken; it was then brought to Washington; and, in a section of this paper contributed by Dr. Wetmore, the bird is described and returned to specific status as Caprimulgus noctitherus (Wetmore), the Puerto Rican Whip-poor-will.

The song is described for the first time and compared with the entirely different song of C. vociferus by means of spectrograms. Possible reasons are presented as to why the bird, although a permanent resident, has escaped detection and why it survived at all.

The distribution and size of the remnant population are not known, and, with the exception of the song, all phases of its life history remain to be determined.

Notes

Nomenclature and commentary by Alexander Wetmore (pp. 54–56).

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