Found throughout much of the eastern United States where open forests and dune lands provide suitable habitat, this species is larger, equally vocal, and more likely to be found in the open than its more northerly relative, the Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus). Like most goatsuckers, the Chuck-will's-widow sings its distinctive onomatopoeic song primarily at dawn and dusk, but also during nights when the moon is full or nearly so. The nocturnal habits of this species have created mystery behind its life cycle and have limited research. Not one nesting study exists, for example, to provide information on breeding success.
This bird hunts actively by flying low over the ground in search of insects. Occasionally, small passerines and bats are included in its diet. During primary molt, when maneuvering for flying insects may be difficult, individuals are sometimes seen on the ground under street lamps foraging for ground-dwelling insects and even small frogs.
Since the nineteenth century, this species has expanded its range north and west, moving beyond its stronghold in the Southeast into mid-Atlantic states.
Many reports of this species have been anecdotal and provide limited insight into its habits. Those studies that significantly contributed to the understanding of the Chuck- will's-widow include research on its vocal array (Mengel and Jenkinson 1971) and molting sequence (Rohwer 1971, Mengel 1976, Rohwer and Butler 1977). Although other publications have discussed behavioral and physiological traits of this species (Jenkinson and Mengel 1970, Mengel et al. 1972, Coues 1874a), little is known about its nesting behavior, breeding success, habitat use, and population status, knowledge gaps that are especially troubling. Although Chuck-will's-widows are known to nest in suburban habitat, the extreme nature of urban sprawl and intensified agriculture in the South may be causing population declines that are as yet undetected.