Our Nighthawks will be the Next to Leave

As the geese leave the pond for larger bodies of water and training for the larger migratory flights, we’re left with a few ducks, and the evenings provide aerial shows of insect eating birds.  The swallows have been busy all summer removing mosquitoes and other insects.  As the geese leave, the air over the pond gets a new batch of family groups – the nighthawks.  Usually a pair of nighthawks show up flying with two offspring – this year one family has 2, the other family just one, so I watch 7 nighthawks banking and diving for insects.  Two years ago, one family hatched 3, last year both families had 2.  It is probably worth mentioning that they aren’t hawks – they’re nightjars, and related to the whip-poor-will.  The Audabon link below includes their calls and is worth a visit.

A comment from facebook got me going back to Audabon for information – “We saw a lot of them when I was a kid, but we don’t see them now.”  The field guide said, “Declining seriously in numbers in many parts of North America. Causes may include changes in land use and overuse of pesticides. In some areas, nighthawks nesting on gravel roofs have been targeted by increasing urban populations of crows, which eat the eggs.”  Living in a spot that is pretty much ideal for nighthawks, I hadn’t realized the population was in decline.

They’re the last arrivals in the Spring – and I think ours nest on the hill overlooking the pond.  Actually the term nest isn’t correct – she finds an open space, lays two eggs, and incubates them for 19 days.  Then both parents take over feeding the little birds for 3 weeks – and they start flying in family groups, usually of four, harvesting insects.  In another week or so, they will be southbound.  My guess is that they cross the equator at the equinox, then arrive in the Argentine in time for the second Spring of their year.  I’ll see them again in May.

Common Nighthawk, photo by Robert Bennets, National Park Service

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