by Juanita Baker, Ph.D.
If passing by, would you notice this as “a bump on a Long-leaf Pine branch or a bird?” Dee Simpson got it! Common Nighthawks are not hawks and do not hunt at night but at dusk and dawn. See the link on Cornell Lab’s Birds of the World shows the Orders and Families of the World. They are in the Nightjar family, comprised of 19 genera with 97 species! The Chordeiles genus of our Nightjar has six species, three of which are only found in South America.
For years bird-field guides and the online Birds of the World for Common Nighthawks have shown color-coded maps where different colors are used to denote their distributions: during breeding-red/orange, migration-yellow, non-breeding-blue, and year-round residents-purple. National Audubon Society (NAS) and Cornell Ornithology Lab since 2002 have encouraged citizen scientists (bird watchers) to post bird location data on ebird.org, which, if one enters into ebird.org, ‘Common Nighthawk’ under “Explore species” to see color-coded “citizen scientist” sightings across North and South America. Zoom into our county to see markers and click on a blue marker to view the date, where, and who recorded the sighting. In 2021, ebird.org had accumulated 1 billion bird observations! This makes it a powerful tool to show the impact of global warming on birds and, thus, our effects on the planet. NAS has 3 new dramatic tools:
- NAS’s tool: the migratory route of the Common Nighthawk (and see >400 other US species): Though they are permanent residents of some Caribbean Islands—including Cuba and Puerto Rico – migration starts in January in South America where they spend the winter. Birds start leaving in April from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and fly north to Florida and most of continental US (except Alaska) and Canada where they breed to the tundra line. After breeding, at the end of July they move south from Canada through October when they all reach South America by November end. (Note that Lesser Nighthawks now inhabit the FL Keys but can be distinguished by their different calls). (When Common Nighthawks migrate, they gather in northern breeding areas in large groups of dozens to hundreds flying overhead together.)
- NAS’s tool: Bird Migration Explorer is a new website showing Conservation Challenges—Residential & Commercial Development, Agriculture & Aquaculture, Energy Production & Mining, Transportation & Service, Biological Resource Use, Human Intrusions, Natural System Modifications, Invasive & Problematic Species, Pollution, Geological Events, and Climate Change which teach and give ideas for solutions. Choose one to work on!
- NAS’s tool: Climate Survival tool highlighting Climate change shows how climate change will impact the Common Nighthawk’s range shown at increasing degrees of global warming— +1.5°, +2.0°, and +3.0°— how the current range of this species will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures. Nighthawks are critically declining in Canada and New England, likely from habitat destruction and overuse of pesticides killing their primary food source-insects-as well as the warming climate. In some areas, nighthawks nesting on gravel roofs (also used less for roofing or covered with white plastic preventing nesting) have been targeted by crows, which devour the eggs.
With these new tools bird watching has gone beyond a mere pastime or subject of beauty in art and photography. It shows us readily what is happening to our planet and indicates what we can do to help not only birds, but humanity, to survive—we can start by planting native plants to replace grass and using fewer chemicals in our yards!
Please go to the online Peligram and find direct links to each of the websites referred to in the essay…just click on the underlined words and the new websites will open!
See Dee Fairbanks Simpson’s Blog: https://deeateightam.blogspot.com/search/label/Common%20Nighthawk