Mottled gray-brown; brown throat; small white or buffy neck band; outer tail feathers of males have large white patches with the tips being a buff-brown; females lack white on the outer tail feathers. 31 cm (12 in) in length. Other things to look for: The Chuck-will's-widow has a distinctive four-syllable song sounding like its common name, with the chuck sometimes inaudible except when one is close to the bird.
Nesting commonly occurs in woodlands, on open ground or under the protection of a shrub.
The breeding season begins in March, peaks in May, and extends into late June. No nest is built. The female lays 1-4 (usually 2) eggs that she and possibly the male incubate for approximately 20 days. The young are semi-precocial and are ready to fly at about 17 days after hatching. If disturbed the adults may move the eggs or nestlings from the nest site. The young and adults stay together as a family group until late summer.
This species is nocturnal, doing most of its hunting and singing at night and being especially active at dusk and dawn. Its habitat includes open country for foraging and pine or mixed woodlands for nesting and other activities. The Chuck-will's-widow has a highly variable diet including insects, amphibians, birds (warblers, sparrows, wrens, and hummingbirds), and bats. Most records of Chuck-will's-widows eating birds have been during migration. This species forages while on the wing, using its large bill to scoop up prey and swallow it whole. During a short period during the summer while the Chuck-will's-widow is molting, its flight ability is reduced and it forages mostly on the ground, commonly eating insects and things drawn by insects (toads and frogs) under street lamps. This species is migratory.
During the breeding season, the Chuck-will's-widow occurs throughout most of the eastern United States, except for the northern third and mountainous areas. This species winters in extreme southern Florida, south through the Greater Antilles, through Central America, and into northern South America.
This species has been declining in areas, probably due to land use changes. It is common within appropriate habitat, however, and is not yet listed as requiring special conservation attention in any portion of its southeastern range.
The most similar species is the Whip-poor-will. The Whip-poor-will is also mottled gray-brown, but has a black throat, white (male) or buff (female) neck band, and the outer tail feathers are tipped in white (male) or buff (female). The song of the Whip-poor-will is a distinctive evening voice with three syllables, sounding like its common name with an accent on the first and last syllable.